Richard Hughes
Archive number: 49
Preferred name: Gordon
Date interviewed: 08 May, 2003

Served with:

2/8 Field Ambulance
9th Division

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Gordon Hughes 0049


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Tape 01


Gordon, could you tell me a bit about your early life, where you were born and raised.
Well I was actually born in Ryde, New South Wales. My parents were living in Abbotsford at the time but I was actually born at my grandmother’s house at Ryde. And then for the next few years we lived on the north coast.


My father being a builder and we’d travel round to various towns. Came back to Ryde about 1927. Metabank actually, not Ryde. Lived there until 1932 when I was twelve. Come to Manly for a holiday. My parents liked it and so we moved here in 1932 and stayed on the Peninsula. Except for three years that we had in Melbourne. Apart from that and in the War years I’ve lived on the Peninsula all my life.
And what was it like growing up


Well Manly was a magic place in those days, there’s no doubt it was a lovely place. And for a young kid of twelve which I was in ‘32 having the beach there and being able to go and catch fish and so forth. And it was magic, I loved it.
And whereabouts, what was your schooling like?
I went to the public schools in


West Ryde and Manly for one of the years And then I went over to Sydney High and three years over there. And then I left school in 1936. The Depression was just finishing virtually. And so that was my schooling.
And did you have any idea of what you wanted to do as a career?
Yes, I felt that I wanted to be a


carpenter. But my father who was a carpenter and had been out of work for several years during the Depression said that there was no way he was going to allow me to be a carpenter. And I had to get a job either in the bank. In a bank or an insurance office. And so I gave up the idea of being a carpenter and I got a job as a junior in a Chartered Accountants Office. James Taylor, was a


Chartered Accountant. And I spent, until I joined up I stayed there. I was, after several years, I was promoted from being a junior in the office to an intermediate. And then I went to the War.
What was your father like?
He was a First War soldier, born and bred in Yass, New South Wales. His whole family were builders.


He had a brother who was a carpenter also and he had another brother who was a brickie and his father was a carpenter builder. And my dad was a very good man, a very churchy man. He was tied up with the church all his life with the Presbyterian Church. He was an Elder, proud of being an Elder in the church and so forth. And he had very strict rules on how his two boys, I had a brother,


on how his two boys should be brought up. And he was quick to tell us if we did the wrong thing. As I say he was out of work for years during the Depression. Then when he was still only fairly young he was only fifty something, fifty-two or three and had a devastating heart attack and never worked again. He was quite a loveable fellow and he used to love our children, his grandchildren.


And we all got on very well.
How was he affected by his War?
I don’t know much about it because I didn’t give it much thought as a boy. Looking back now with the knowledge that I have now of how war can affect somebody, I think that the War had a pretty devastating affect on him. He wouldn’t talk about the War at all. He also, he was a stretcher bearer in a Field Ambulance Unit in the First World


War. And in the Fifth Field Ambulance and later on in the Fifteenth. He was on Gallipoli and went through France as well of course. He was in Belgium. On one occasion, I’ve seen his repatriation records and I know that on one occasion he was blown up and he finished up in England with shell shock. And he was so, I think he was probably a pretty nervy sort of fellow after that.


He worked hard, kept the family going. I think the War had an effect on him, the First War devastating war. And being a stretcher bearer he would have seen a lot of worst aspects of it, would have been quite unsettling for him I’m sure.
Where were you when the Second War began?
I was in Nowra. We were working down there, I was working with James Taylor the Chartered


Accountant who was the local Government Auditor for the Nowra Council. And we were down working in Nowra when the War broke out. And I can remember feeling quite devastated that this terrible thing would happen again in my lifetime. And we came back to Kiama the next day and I can remember the billboard outside the paper shop in Kiama. And it,


typical press, they were exaggerating, the billboard read “Western Front Ablaze”. Which was not true of course. There was nothing happening. “Western Front Ablaze” was the billboard on the Monday following the outbreak of war in September 39. Then we came back to Sydney of course and I thought about joining up.
Tell me about that thought process.


Having lived in Manly and having gone over to work in Sydney and on the Manly Ferry every day for several years and even to Sydney Boys High for three years before that. I looked at all the Navy ships lying in Farm Cove and around Garden Island. And I felt that I had to be, join the Navy. So after coming back from the south coast in early September. About a week or so after


I didn’t tell anybody, I went around to Rushcutter’s Bay to join up. And there was, I went into the Navy buildings there and there was no one around, the place seemed to be empty. However I finally struck a bloke, and, Navy fellow, and he said “What do you want?” and I said “Well I’ve come to enlist?”. And he said “Well are you a reservist?” and I said “No I’m not“ And he said “Well we don’t want you. We only pick, we’re only calling up reservists.


at this stage and there’s no general enlistment for the Navy”. So I went home. And I thought to myself well what am I going to do. And I discussed it with my father then and I said “Well I think I better join up. I think I’d like to join up”. And he said “Well I’d advise you not to”. And my mother overheard us talking and she came into the room and she said “I’ll never let you join up. You’re not going to go to the war like your father did you’re not going to go.


I’ll cut off your arm first. If you talk like that”. So I put it on the back burner and didn’t do anything about it then until the following June. June 1940. That was when Italy came into the war and there was a big wave of enthusiasm then by the young fellows then to help out. So that’s why I joined up.
Tell me about joining up in June, where did you go?


I went to Martin Place. There was a tent in Martin Place. And I signed up there and they put us in a bus and took us out to the Engineers Depot at Moore Park where I was medically examined and sworn in. And then we went across to the showground. I spent about five weeks in the showground. In an area that was allocated for


Army Medical Corp. Details I think they called it. Army Medical Corp Details. These were, I told the fellow that I wanted to be a Field Ambulance man and a stretcher bearer . And that’s where I was put. And I found out that of all the fellas who were there, there must have been about a hundred of us in the AMC Details some of them went to general hospitals to work. Some of them


had skills in looking after sick people. I had nothing like this. And some of them went to Canterbury Clearing Stations and enlisted there. And some of us went to Field Ambulances.
Why did you decide to join the Field Ambulances?
Well I think the fact that my father was the Field Ambulance man in the First War had an affect. I knew nothing about the Army. I knew nothing.


I’d never heard of the word infantry or artillery. I might have heard artillery. But I don’t remember hearing anything about units, like the army engineers or signals or anything like that. But I’d heard about the Field Ambulance. And I can remember that in 1940 I was keen to join up and help but I don’t, I wasn’t sure that I wanted to actually kill


anybody. So I thought it was best that if I was an unarmed soldier looking after anyone who did get wounded and so forth. And the fact that my father was a Field Ambulance man must have had some influence on me too. I think it did.
Why didn’t you make another attempt to join the Navy?
Because my mother threatened to cut off my arm. She was,


they were engaged to be married in 1914. Dad went to the war as an engaged man. He didn’t come back until 1919. Now they were engaged from 1914 to 1919 and when he came back my mother told me years later that he was a changed man. Because I wasn’t born then but that’s what she felt. They were married within a month of him coming back. They were married on the 14th of June


1919. I, the, mum was so adamant that I wasn’t going to join up that I was quite worried about bringing the subject up again. And also there was not much happening in the first few months of the war. Nothing, no big battles. A little bit on the sea with some of the warships but there, no big land battles really or anything going on.


And England looked as if it would be okay, Australia had a Sixth Division enlisted and they went over to the Middle East. And life was going on reasonably normally, normal here in Sydney in 1939 to the first part of 1940. But in June ‘40 when Italy came into the war that seemed to indicate to a lot of us that we should do something. I was


tied up with a number of young fellows in Manly kicking around with them in those days. And Ron Thompson and Ian Sinclair and what’s his name Murray Sinclair and a few others Norm Stewart. And we all decided to join up in 1940. So when I broached the subject again with my mother and father, course I had to get them to sign, I was still not twenty-one. An under twenty-one had to have the written permission of your parents.


A lot of fellas didn’t worry about that they just went and joined up under another name but, or they put their age up but I felt I better do the right thing. So I waited until they were prepared to sign it. In the end my mother still refused to sign it but father did.
Tell me about the sort of training that you received upon joining?
Upon enlistment there wasn’t much training in the medical field at all.


We went, for it was all part of the getting fit business. We went for long route marches through Centennial Park while we were out there and then I went to Ingleburn Camp. And again long route marches. And I was still in this area which they called Army Medical Details. A conglomerate of fellows, not attached to any particular unit. And from Ingleburn we went


to Bathurst. And it was not until we got to Bathurst Camp that I learned a little bit about first aid and how to put on a shell dressing and things of this nature. But as a Field Ambulance Stretcher Bearer you didn’t have to know much. You didn’t have to learn much about anything to do with treatment, or, like they had to do in the hospital. We mainly had to be fit and


in Bathurst camp I remember two or three times a week, we’d go out on exercises with infantry. And we’d have to follow the infantry. And certain men would be told, well you lie down and you’re a wounded soldier. And tell the fellow when he comes that you have got a bad leg wound or an arm wound or something. And we’d go up to these fellas who were lying on the ground and they’d say well I’ve got a shell, shrapnel through the thigh or something like this.


Or through the shoulder. And we had to work out how to put the shell dressing on and then lift them onto a stretcher and carry them back and so forth. And that was virtually all the training we had. Not much.
Did you think that was adequate?
I suppose I did, I think, I suppose I thought it was adequate. Cause I had no experience in this sort of field and I thought to meself well I’m gonna be a stretcher bearer I can do this. I can slap


on a shell dressing and make sure that they’re not bleeding and get em back to a doctor or whatever. Yeah, probably thought it was adequate.
Tell me about receiving news of your departure?
Well from Bathurst Camp we were sent on pre-embarkation leave. That was must, have been in early December 1940 and, wait, I think it was, I think we had about seven or eight days


pre-embarkation leave I came home. And then we went back to camp and we weren’t told exactly what day we were leaving. But about two or three days before we left Bathurst Camp the camp was closed. And we weren’t allowed out anywhere. No, not even going into the Bathurst town to have a drink or anything like that. We were kept in camp. And then one day


it must have been about the 24th or 23rd of December we were told to pack our gear up, go into the parade ground and we had a sort of a trial run. We all had to put our packs on, all our gear and march quite a long way in towards the railway station just near Bathurst. I can’t think of the name of it now. That was where the train was gonna pick us up and when we got there,


there was no train there because it was a trial run. And we had to march back to camp and we had another night in camp. And the next day we marched in there again and got on the train and down to Sydney to Pyrmont and then on to a little ferry over to the Queen Mary which was lying in Athol Bight. And we were on board, I think we sailed the next morning, if I remember rightly, and that was either Christmas Day or Boxing Day 1940.


What were your feelings on departure?
I think I was little bit apprehensive about the whole thing. It was sort of coming back to me “Well I wonder how long I’ll be away?” I’d read about the Sixth Division going over there. They hadn’t yet been in action, they weren’t in action until the January. But we knew a little bit about where they were.


And we imagined that we were also going to the Middle East. Although we weren’t told of course. I think I was a little bit apprehensive about the whole thing. Having got on the big ship and realising I wasn’t gonna get off again in Sydney until I came home. And had no idea whether I’d be away for a month or a year or two years. It was two years. Before I came back.
Did you think about the


possibility of not coming home?
Well I don’t think any of us did. No
Why do you think that was?
I don’t think that young men, probably young women, too, think about things like that when they’re young. I think most of us when we’re young we think we’re going to go on living forever. And think and none of us even when you go into action where the shells are flying and everything else


I don’t think that many men sit back or stop to think well “Christ Almighty this could be the last day for me on earth”. I don’t think you think that, when you’re young you don’t.
Can you tell me a bit about the voyage?
Well the Queen Mary, I was in Cabin A on the A Deck, Cabin number A37. The, I think if I remember right, there were about 5 000


Australian Soldiers on board. There were some Corp. Sigs. The 2/15th Battalion was on board. Must have been about eight or nine hundred of them. And they were all from Queensland and there was some ASC {Army Service Corps]. There was a hospital unit on board I can’t remember which one it was. It might have been the 2/5thh. I’m not sure about that. Anyhow there were several hundred of them. There must have been about a hundred nurses on board.


And we set off from Sydney with other ships and a week later we arrived off Fremantle. And all the other ships being smaller than the Queen Mary went into Fremantle and they had a day’s leave. Because the Queen Mary couldn’t get into Fremantle so we were told, we anchored out in the stream several miles off shore. And we didn’t get ashore at all.


And after a day there we set sail again and we sailed up to towards Colombo. The Queen Mary then left the convoy and steamed on her own round to Trincomalee Harbour . Where the 5 000 troops on board were disembarked onto smaller ships. And I, with a number of others, several hundred others, I was on


The, I went onto the little Dillwarra. Now the Dillwarra was a troop ship. It was built as a trooper. She carried, before the war she carried troops between England and India and back and so forth. And so we were in big mess decks down below, hammocks above the tables and so forth. And I was on the Dillwarra. Then we went on her, round to Colombo, had a day’s leave in Colombo.


And then we set off sail again to the Middle East and we went through the Red Sea. A lot of the Australian soldiers will tell you they got off the ship in the Canal at Al Kantara. Well the Dillwarra, we didn’t disembark any of its soldiers. We went right through the Canal and of course to Haifa. And so we got off in Palestine. That was our


Tell me what that looked like at that time?
Or Palestine, where you disembarked?
Haifa wasn’t a very big city in those days. It was only a town. Not a very big a place at all. I can remember that as we pulled in, of course we were rookies. There were some Australian soldiers on the wharf. And they gave us the usual greeting of you’ll be sorry which was standard you know wherever you went in


those days. You were told you’ll be sorry. And one of them sidled up to several of us as we came down the gang way. We were loaded up with all our gear and everything. He said to us “Just watch yourself here because the air raids. They’re all the time. Terribly, terribly”. Course the truth was there were no air raids there. He was pulling our legs as well. We got into a train


at Haifa and went down towards Gaza to a place called Kylo 89. And there were detrained I think they call it and marched up to Kylo 89 where there were a lot of tents. And we were put into a tent I think. If I remember there were eight of us in a tent. And that’s how we arrived there. And of course the


Gaza itself was a very small town. Nowadays I look at Gaza on the television and I see multi-storey buildings. Nothing like that in those days. It was a very small Arab town. And that was it. Nice little place though Gaza, with a nice beach.
What did you do after arriving, what was your next move?
Well we arrived there at the end of January. And apart from


going on leave a couple of times and route marches which, every day there seemed to be route marches and fitness things. We did an exercise out near, I can’t think of the name of the town now. We did an exercise with infantry one day and one night. Again picking up bodies that were supposed to be wounded and carrying stretchers and so forth. Apart from that we didn’t do very much


at all. We were just waiting to be detailed to our units. And the, it wasn’t until Greece was being evacuated and Crete too. It was around about the end of April. Could have been round about ANZAC Day or that time. ‘Bout the end of April that I was, we were taken down in a train to Emmaria which is the camp outside


of Alexandria. And then we were taken by trucks into Alexandria down to the wharves and we had to help the soldiers who were being evacuated from Greece and Crete. They were coming ashore there. And some of them were injured and hurt others were wounded. No, they weren’t well at all. And these were Sixth Divvy fellows. And we spent about two or three weeks there


with this these Field Ambulance Detail fellows. Unattached to any unit but we had to help out. There were doctors there and sometimes we’d have to go onboard ships to help them actually carry them down the gang ways and other times we go onboard and take them by the arm. And we had several cooks with us who used to be on the wharves and they had the big boilers there making stew. And they would give these fellows something to eat


as they got off the ships. And then when they were all back or those who got away were back, we went back to the Emmaria Camp again. And again there was a period where we weren’t doing very much at all. Waiting. And we continued to wait there until about the middle of May. Now by this time Tobruk was on and it was about this time too that I was told that most of us


in that group would be going to the 2/8th Field Ambulance. We learned why later on. Because the 2/8th Field Ambulance had lost about forty-one, they did lose forty-one men on the run back from Benghazi to Tobruk. They were captured by the Germans. So the Field Ambulance Unit which is a very small unit losing forty-one men, you know, was rather serious and so there must have been about twenty-five of us who were


notified that “Well you’ll be reinforcements the 2/8th Field Ambulance”. So from Emmaria Camp we went up to Mersa Matruh by train which is up near the border of Libya. And we had several days there then we got on a ship, a war ship, the HMAS Stuart actually, and went into Tobruk, That was the end of May 1941.


What were your first impressions of Tobruk?
I can remember that very well. We arrived in the Harbour and it was a dark night and all round, from all I could see were gun flashes in the night sky. All the way around. And of course this was the artillery, both sides having a go at each other I suppose. And I can remember


thinking “Well Christ Almighty here I am, I’m here at last”. I thought am I, whether I’m gonna like this or not. But it was a, tended to make one feel quite apprehensive about what was going to happen. I didn’t think anything was gonna happen to me but you couldn’t help feeling a little bit worried about it. And so we got off the ship and we went to a place called the


Wadi Ouda that night and just lay down on the ground. Had a bit of a sleep. And there were some planes around. Some bombs were dropped into town, I remember that. And then the next day I joined the Field Ambulance Unit.
How many men are in a Field Ambulance Unit?
I think the establishment is about two hundred and forty. That’s a proper establishment. There is a head quarters unit, a head quarters company I should have said. A and B companies


and a transport company. And the transport company, of course, they’re the drivers of the Field Ambulances themselves. The vehicles and all the other vehicles that the Field Ambulance has in those days. About two hundred and forty men. We were down on strength in Tobruk. We didn’t have that many. We probably had about two hundred and twenty. But worked alright. Colonel Hanson was our Commanding Officer.


And when I joined the unit we all had to line up and the Colonel came along the line and asked each man “Can you drive?” He wanted a few more drivers. Can you drive anything at all, can you drive? I couldn’t so I had to say no. He said well what training have you had in first aid. I said “I know how to put on a shell dressing”. We’ve had training in that, you


know. I was quite confident. And so he said “Well alright here in Tobruk there’s not much stretcher bearing really. You’ll be, you’ll go on the ambulances. And the ambulances go out to the front line and bring them back to the main dressing station and you’ll look after the wounded men in the back of the ambulance. That’ll be your job. The driver’s will, men who can drive will drive the ambulance. Your job will be to look after the


fellas in the back”. So that’s what I did.
Tell me a bit about that, what was that like?
Well the very first day I was taken over to a Field Ambulance and introduced to Tommy Congdon and Phil McBride. McBride was later to be killed. Tommy Congdon survived the War but died bout two years ago.


These two fellas had been driving the same Field Ambulance for almost two months. Tobruk started, the siege of Tobruk started early in April 1941. I didn’t get there until the end of May. So things had settled down fairly well by the time I got there. The infantry changed their positions in the front line from time to time. They’d spend so many days in the front line, so many days


back further resting or whatever they had to do. Then they’d go back again for a period. But the Field Ambulances the ones that were there they were organised so that they looked after one particular sector of the perimeter all the time. We didn’t rotate at all. And so for Tommy Congdon and Phil McBride knew where the regimental aid posts were . They were able to


follow the track and get out there and dodge the mine fields. There were a lot of mine fields in Tobruk, everybody laid mines. The Italians laid them, the Germans laid them and we laid them. And then everybody lost all the maps of where the mines were. You know the mine fields generally had wire fences around them. During the day time you could see the wire fences easily and you wouldn’t run on to a mine, mine field . But at night time, and most of the casualties were brought back at night, not during the day.


But at night time it was a bit dicey, dodgy in the fields. But McBride and Congdon knew the way and I was their offsider in the back of the Ambulance. We brought back fellas who were sick, fellas who had toothache or something like that and they couldn’t stand it anymore. And also fellas who were badly wounded. And


we operated from the RAP the Regimental Aid Post of each unit back through an advanced dressing station. That was about two or three miles behind the front line. There was an advanced dressing station, there would be a doctor there. And there was also a doctor in the RAP. And when I picked up the wounded the doctor would give me a few clues. Well this fella’s got a bad leg wound


or a bad whatever it is wound. Keep an eye on it, keep it, if it starts to bleed stop your ambulance and make sure you tight, or get the bandages tightened up or the shell dressings. And so I’d get a few instructions from the doctor in the RAP. And then I’d take, we’d go back as far as the advanced dressing station and the doctor there would come and have a look at the fellow. And if he didn’t need any urgent attention, we’d just go on to the main dressing


station which was, I suppose, the best part of five or six miles behind the front line. Fair way. And we would off load them there. And from there they would go down to the hospital in Tobruk. But the Field Ambulances didn’t have the responsibility of doing that. There was a crowd called the Motor Ambulance Convoy, MAC’s and these fellows some of whom I think were British


drivers and they used to put them on from the main dressing station into the MAC. And they would go down into the town where the main big hospital was. That’s what happened.
How many wounded could an ambulance accommodate at once?
Four. We had in the back of the ambulance there were two lower bunks and two top bunks.
And how long were you engaged in


these duties at Tobruk?
The whole time I was there. Yeah I was there for five months. I went down the end of May and we came out in October. And during that period I worked with a series of Field Ambulance drivers. There was Johnny McPherson and a fellow we called the Baron. Those two worked together. And there was a big quite


Bill Williams and Bruce Wallace. I still see some of these fellas. Bruce Wallace is still alive. Big Williams is not. Bill Williams is not. Congdon’s dead, McBride was killed in action. Johnny McPherson was killed at Alamein. But I still see fellas like Jimmy Welsh and Bruce Wallace.


Where did you go after Tobruk?
Came out on the, came out Tobruk at the end of October on the HMS Abdiel A-b-d-i-e-l. A fast mine laying cruiser. And we went straight down to Alexandria, off loaded there. We went to the back to the Emmaria Camp again. And we were there for about three days


at Emmaria. Took a train and went back to Palestine. And this time we went to Julus Camp and from Julus we were given leave and I went into Jerusalem again. I’d been there before I had a couple of days in Jerusalem. With some of the lads. And then after, let me see that was in, in November, then about half way through November, we hadn’t been there long, we


went over to another camp called Hill 69. And that was the Ninth, the Camp where the 20th Brigade was. And my unit the 2/8th Field Ambulance was part of the Brigade. The three battalions were the 13th, 15th and 17th and they were there. And also the artillery unit and the signals and engineers. And the Field Ambulance. So that made up the Brigade. And we


went to Hill 69. I had Christmas there. And it was a wet Christmas and cold too. And a tent, of course, in tents. Then from there in January the whole Division moved up into Syria. Now the Syrian campaign had finished the 7th Division was going home and we became occupiers of


Syria and, Lebanon and Syria for the next six months really until June 1942. In fact until very early in July ‘42. That’s right, full six months up there. The 2/8thField Ambulance we went up as far as Aleppo. Which is the most northern large city in Syria.


And we serviced the Field Ambulances did the same thing as we did in Tobruk. We had to go out to the various battalions and bring men who were sick or had hurt themselves down to Aleppo where there was a bit of a hospital there. And so we had six months of mooching around Syria.
Okay we just need to change our tape now, we’ve just come to the end of our first tape.


Good, I’m gonna put the kettle on.
Interviewee: Gordon Hughes Archive ID 0049 Tape 02


Gordon we were talking about Syria. I’d love to get back to Syria. Actually just before we leave Syria, could I ask, were the duties there different in any way to Tobruk in your daily duties?
Well only in the sense that there were no wounded men of course. But the Field Ambulances,


the Field Ambulance in Tobruk operated, did the same sort of, we did in Tobruk and anywhere else. We picked up men who needed to be treated in a hospital. And brought them back to where it was. And in Aleppo we used to go out up on to the Turkish border. There were soldiers strung out along the Turkish border in different little towns and we’d go to a place that’s called, Afreen was one little town,


Edlib was another. And we’d pick up men who’d gone to the, to their own RAP complaining of sickness or stomach ache or whatever and none of them were very bad. I don’t remember any bad cases. But whoever had to come back to Aleppo we just bring them back in our ambulance over the years.
When did you leave


Well before, we left Syria I think it might have been about the 30th June or the 1st July 1942. And that was when the British Army the Eighth Army was then having a rough time coming back across the desert, back towards the Alexandria and Alamein. Because Tobruk had


fallen unfortunately. The South Africans were there and Tobruk had fallen. That was a bit of a blow. And we learned that that had happened. And I remember that was on the American Independence Day the 4th July that we went back across the Sinai Desert from Gaza down to the Canal in open trucks, big convoy, well the whole Division moved. But some of them came back by train and others in open trucks.


And I was in an open truck on that one occasion. And we went to on the 5th July we were right back in an area outside of Alexandria. Now the war was still a fair way away, it was up at Alamein and the Germans had been stopped there. On the Alamein line. The Australians moved up into the Alamein line from memory it might have been about the 7th or 8th


July. Happened very quickly, one brigade moved up there. The 20th Brigade of which my Field Ambulance was a part. We were still many miles back. Probably about ten miles away from the front line. You could just, you could see the flashes at night time with the gun fire in the sky. But on the 9th July, I remember the dates well by the way, on the 9th July


the 2/11th Field Ambulance which was servicing the area where the Australians were at Alamein then, the 2/11th Field Ambulance called for additional ambulances to help them out. The vehicles. And four Field Ambulances from the 2/8th were sent up. Mine was one of them. Then I was with Jimmy Welsh and Ted Dillon. And


we drove up and found the 2/8th Field Ambulance there. The main dressing station and then we were given instructions and where the RAP’s were and started bringing back wounded. There were was a very big battle developing there. It was the first Battle of Alamein. It was a big battle and there were a lot of attacks and counter attacks by the two opposing forces. And the Field Ambulance we were very busy.


Very busy indeed. And we, well just speaking about my own Field Ambulance we worked right along the coast amongst the sand hills. Lovely blue Mediterranean just over just a few yards away. And each time we’d go up we’d have to find the RAP. And the RAP’s were moving all the time too. They weren’t in the same place, it was such a... With all this counter attacking and attacking and so forth.


But we found them each time and we worked there for, until the night of the 12th July and I was wounded, a shell burst right alongside me on the 12th July and that was the end of the war for me. I come back then in my own ambulance as a patient.
What was the nature of the wound?
It was a shell burst, it was shrapnel and I was wounded in the left hand, left


elbow and left loin.
Did you have any other patients in the ambulance?
Yes, oh yes. When I was wounded, I was knocked over of course and I realised I was wounded. And Jimmy Welsh and Ted Dillon you know they come over and they had to slap a field dressing on me. Which was very good. Or a couple actually. And


they took me over to a sort of a temporary RAP and there was a doctor there luckily. And from one of the battalions I just forget which one it was. Might have been the 2/23rd or 24th. Anyhow he was able to give me an injection to kill the pain. Morphine or apparently it was or so I understand. And so I was fairly comfortable for a while


and then there were some more wounded around being treated also and after a little while I was put in my own ambulance and Welshy and Dillon took me back to the main dressing station.
What was the pain like?
I don’t remember it being, well it was painful of course but it wasn’t something that you couldn’t handle you know.


Was painful yeah. But I’m sure it must have been morphine or something like that the doctor gave me to help control the pain. I would think it was morphine. Wasn’t so bad. Once I was back at the main dressing station, you know, lying down quietly all the time. I was there for the night but then the next day


the Motor Ambulance Convoy crowd, the MAC’s they, I was piled into one of those and taken all the way back to Alexandria and put in a British hospital. The 8th British in Alex.
And what sort of medical treatment did you receive there?
Well I had a couple of operations there. I was taken to the theatre where they tidied up the wounds a little bit you know and so forth.


Had to take a lot of bone out of the elbow. The elbow was smashed and they took a lot of bone out of that because it was not much good. And they put it in temporary plaster and so I had a couple of operations there. I was there for about a week and a half in the number, 8th General , British General. And from there, as the soldiers, as the wounded men got a little bit better they’d pile them into an ambulance and take them back


bit further you see. Until you finished up right back in Palestine. So I went from the 8th British in Alex to the 1st British Hospital which was located right on the Canal under tent. And I had about a week or a week and a half there too. All the time I was getting a bit better I suppose. And then from there I was put on a hospital train and taken back to the 6th


Australian General Hospital which was in Gaza. And I was there from about the end of July until the beginning of November. Then come home to Australia.
What was it like to come back?
Oh very good of course, lovely, lovely feeling. One had different feelings about this though. I can remember I wanted to rejoin the unit and when I started to walk again


probably round about November, early November I can remember feeling that I wanted to get back to the unit. And I was put before a Board. There were two doctors on the Board, can’t remember their names now. And one of them said to me “Well would you like to stay over here and, I see you’re a clerk before the war”. I said “Yes I was”.


And he said “Would you like to stay over here and do a job like working in the office, in one of these base jobs”. And I thought well I didn’t want that at all. Didn’t feel as if I wanted to be a clerk in the office in the Army. So I remember saying “No I want to go back to my unit”. But of course with a bad elbow, a smashed elbow I was not much good to them really. So he said “If you don’t want that” he said” I’ll send you back to Australia”. So they


did. I came back on the I came back on the Morotania which was a new ship in those days, lovely new ship too. And we got on down at Suez. There were about 600 Australian soldiers on board all of whom were walking wounded. All able to walk and all had been wounded at Alamein. Different stages of Alamein. And we got on board and there were about 600


Germans on board too. They were prisoners. And they were locked down below. And they had some English soldiers, some Tommies were guarding them. They were well armed and they kept them under control. About a dozen or so Germans were allowed up on deck at any one time during the day for about half an hour. And that was right in the stern of the ship, there was a big wire cage, covered in completely, and the Jerries were allowed up there and we Aussies


we’d, walking round the deck of a day time, we’d go up and just lean over the rail and look at the Germans for a while. Sometimes wave to them. We didn’t talk to them.
Was that, were there any regulations about communication with them?
I don’t remember any. There probably would have been but I don’t remember, I don’t remember being told not to do it but I didn’t feel as if I wanted to do it. And they wouldn’t have wanted to talk to us either. They were very arrogant crowd you know. The Germans thought


they were gonna win. Even the wounded Germans that I picked up and brought back the first three or four days I was working at Alamein. They were very sure that we were on the skids and they were gonna win and quite arrogant towards us. And I spoke to several of them and they spoke very good English too. They did.
What sort of, oh sorry, what sort of


things did they say to you?
Well I can remember one of them said, I said to one of them “Well you’ll be looked after” or something like that. And he said, I think he said something like “General Rommel will soon be here, we’ll soon take Egypt and you’ll all be prisoners, you’ll all be prisoners, all of you”. Things like that.
Where were the Germans being taken on the Morotania?
They I believe they were being taken to


Canada. Now I was never, I don’t know about that but they didn’t get off the ship. When we arrived back in Sydney, we called in at Perth on the way, Fremantle on the way home with a few of the Aussies got off there. The Germans stayed on. We came round to Sydney and we arrived here on the, might have been about the 12th or the 14th about half way through December 1942. And the ship was only in port for a few hours and she went out again. And


the Germans were still on board. We were told by some of the Tommy Guards that they’d been told that the Germans were going to Canada. They didn’t go to, they didn’t come to Australia.
When you came back the war with Japan was still...
Was well on.
How did you feel about the war with Japan?
Well when I arrived back in Australia I still had to get


some further treatment for my wounds and so forth and things settled down then. And I had a short holiday up in Brisbane. And I was aware that Sydney was full of action now about the war in Japan. I was aware of that of course. But also knowing that I was no longer required in the Army and couldn’t do much in the Army


I concen... I remember thinking “Well what am I gonna do. What am I gonna work on now? Instead of going back to my studies and becoming a Chartered Accountant I decided I would have a bit of a spell from the studies for a while. I think I must have been a bit unsettled. And so one day a fella said to me in Sydney, “What are you gonna do for


a crust?” “I don’t know what to do, I’ll have to get a job soon”. And he said “Well the Repat are looking”, that’s the Repatriation Department, “the Repat are looking for clerks. Why don’t you go up and get a job there?” So I did. I went up to the Repat and I saw a Mr Brier there. He was a First War soldier, the staff clerk. And he said “Oh well you’re a clerk”. And I said “Yes I was a clerk”. And he said “Oh well I’ll take you on a temporary basis”. And I said “Right-o”.


And I stayed there for forty years. Forty. Not as a clerk all the time. I worked me way up fairly quickly and I became the Chairman of the Repatriation Board. And I was Assistant Commissioner. And so and I was a member of a Tribunal, an Entitlements Appeal Tribunal. at one stage. So, but it’s true to say that


when I went there for a temporary job I had no idea I’d stay there but the time passed. I met Shirley, we married, had children and so forth. And I liked the job. It was looking after the old soldiers. I liked it.
When you first took the job on and the war was still on, was that to your,


part of the war effort in a way? Was it a way to, were you conscious of...
I don’t remember thinking that no. I don’t remember thinking that.
I’m just interested in exploring your feelings after you were wounded and you wanted to go back to your unit, can you describe that frustration to me?
Well I was a bit, yes I was frustrated about that. And see I had the same thing put to me, when I came back to Australia I knew


that the, that sooner or later the Division would come back and the 2/8th Field Ambulance would come back and as I was getting a bit stronger, although the elbow was never gonna be used again. I knew that sooner or later I might have the chance of getting back to the unit. And so I went before, after some leave, I went before a Board here in Sydney, a Medical Board comprising one man only. A fella named Donovan


Major Donovan. And he was a doctor of course. And I remember walking into Major Donovan and he was looking at my papers and he said “Oh yes oh you’re not too badly wounded. You’ve got a bad elbow there, that’s about all. The loin and all everything’s fixed up apart from that”. He said “I can see three stripes on your arm Private Hughes”. And I said “Can you sir”. He said “Yes we’ll put you over in the Army, the District Army Records office”.


And he said “There’ll” he said “Straight away there’ll be three stripes on your arm, you’ll be a Sergeant. How about that?” And again I didn’t feel as if I wanted to be clerk in the Army. I thought, I had the feeling in my bones in those days that clerks, although I suppose they were necessary, you had to have clerks there. But I didn’t feel that was a war effort. I felt I had to do something in a field unit.


You know the word field. When you see Field Artillery and Field Ambulance or Field Company Engineers, you know that they’re right up there into it. Just behind the infantry and you know more or less into it. I didn’t feel as if I wanted to be a clerk in the Army. So I said to Major Donovan “Thanks all the same but no I don’t want to be a clerk”. He said “Well in that case you’re out”. And he discharged me.
And how did you feel about that?
I was happy,


I was happy. I knew by then that I wasn’t going to have any chance of getting back to the unit. I knew by then that I had to get back to civvy life. Which I did. And I got this temporary job in the Repat and I quite enjoyed working with... see in the Repat in those days you had to be a Returned Soldier to get a job. So the only non return people working there were typists, the girls. And all the men in the Repat in those days were Returned


Soldiers. And at stage of the game all the ‘39 War soldiers fellas that were there. They’d all been wounded either at Bardia or Alamein or Tobruk or in Greece or somewhere. And we’re all wounded in some way or other and who, yeah, we were, it was a bit wild in the Repat in those days too. Because we were so young and, reasonably young, I was twenty, I wasn’t yet twenty


three. And some of us were inclined to play up a little bit. Oh not me of course but the others were.
How did your parents react to your return?
They were very pleased of course, they were pleased to get me back. I remember the day that we got off the ship and I went out to the, we were taken by bus out to the showground and put before a doctor. And the doctor said “Oh


Well”, elbow was still discharging everyday and had to be bandaged. And he said, “Well” he said “you’ll get your treatment from the local doctor in Manly”. And he gave me the name of a doctor in Manly that I had to go and see to get the dressing changed every couple of days or so. And then I was wondering how I’d get home, you know. Over to Balgowlah where my parents lived. I was hoping to get a ride in the car. But there was a driver there and he said “No I


can’t take you all that way”. So he took me down to the wharf to get the ferry. So I went down to the wharf and I got the ferry across that afternoon. And as I say the big ship the Morotania it wasn’t in port long because as I was crossing the harbour that afternoon in the ferry she was moving down the harbour to go out the heads again. So we arrived in, I arrived in Manly, got off the ferry and I walked along to a shop in Manly called Coopers.


My brother worked there, my young brother had worked there. And also I had a cousin there. And she knocked off work immediately and we went down and got the bus home. My mother had been told by a neighbour that I was home because she didn’t have a phone on so a person in Manly, I think it was someone that Dorothy knew in Manly rang my mother, rang my mother’s neighbour and said Gordon’s in Manly and he’s coming


home today. He’ll be up there shortly. I got the next bus home. And yeah the family was very pleased to see me. I remember having a very bad headache that night. I don’t know what, it must have been the excitement and I was so bad I went and had to lie down for a while. And then my father came home from work, he couldn’t contain himself, he had to come and wake me up. They were all very pleased. I was pleased too, of course. Lovely to be home.


What state was your arm in that day?
Well it was still discharging, the bone was still not mended properly and it was still. Had to have a dressing put on it every couple of days. I went down to this doctor in Manly. What was his name? Barron. Doctor Barron in Manly and he used to dress it for me. Every couple of days or so. It was getting better then. Kept on discharging for about another month after I


came home. Then it seemed to heal up. No trouble ever since.
What did your parents think of your desire to get back to the field?
I don’t think I ever told them really. When they saw me I’d been discharged. I was about to be discharged. I hadn’t seen Donovan, I hadn’t seen that Major Donovan at that stage. That was I was talking about the first day I was home. I didn’t see Major Donovan until about another six weeks or two months.


And that was when I was told that I could go to the District Records Office as a Sergeant or... Well I wasn’t told anything else I was told that I could go to the District Records Office as a Sergeant and I declined that so that was when Major Donovan said “Oh well you’re out”. Yeah.
Did you feel that it was


just too, a difficult thing? Did you think about telling them you wanted to go back?
No. I don’t remember telling them. I don’t even remember, no I don’t think I told them. I think I was, I think I realised that was the end of the war for me. It was. That was the end of the war for me. Well I had five months in Tobruk and about four days in Alamein and that was it really. Not a,


nothing spectacular about my service history. Quiet, you know.
When you thought, did you think back about your reasons for enlisting at that stage? And did you feel that it was, you’d done the right thing by enlisting?
Well I’ve always thought that. Yes I’ve never had any doubts about the necessity to


do it. We were very closely associated with England in those days. Everyone was not only a loyalist but a Royalist. And I still am a Royalist. I love the Royal Family. But in those days it was a big thing. And you’d never talk to anybody who was, well there might have been a few, but I didn’t meet anybody who didn’t feel the same way. That if


England was at war, we were at war. That was it. It was the same in the First War and the ‘39 War. Mr Menzies didn’t have any hesitation in telling us. You know that he told us on the 3rd September he made a radio broadcast and said England has declared war on Germany therefore Australia is also at war. And that was it. No-one questioned it.
How long did you think about


Well as I say, it was, as soon as the war was declared I knew that I had to enlist. In my heart. And I came back without telling my parents I went round to the Rushcutters Bay and tried to get into the Navy. I was keen, I wanted to do it. The Navy weren’t, didn’t have any general enlisting at that stage. They were reservists only as I said. And so I didn’t do anything then for


quite some months. Although I used to see the soldiers in the street. The Sixth Divvy boys who were joining up and the Seventh Divvy men who were joining up and I felt that I, sooner or later I would have to. When Italy came into the War I knew this was the time. And that was when I said to my father “And you know I’ll have to go. Norm Stewarts going and Murray Sinfield’s going and these other fellows. Ron Thompson was going”. And I said “I’ll have to go”.
Why did Italy


make the difference?
Well it seemed to, it seemed to us that England might have been in a little trouble if we didn’t help. And although Australia was only a small country in those days, I think there were about seven million people living in Australia in those days. Not a big country. Oh yes we should go and help. England was on its own. Canada, well


Canada was in it and South Africa. So we thought, it was the British Empire against Germany I suppose. And then when Italy came in, had to do something about it. Got even worse when Japan came in, of course. Yeah.
Did that, when you were wanting to get back to your Field Unit after your wound, was the


threat that Australia was under from Japan, did that add to your desire to return to the war?
Well as I say with a gammy arm I was no good to the Army. Nobody wanted a bloke with a gammy arm. So I didn’t, I don’t remember thinking much about it except thinking well what will we do if Japan, if Japan


invades Australia? And those thoughts cross our minds. Mine and everybody else’s. And a lot of people moved away from the sea shore only and up to the mountains to, in case Japan did invade. But no I don’t remember thinking that I would be able to take up arms against the Japanese or anything like that.


I was concerned of course about what was going on. But having been in the physical state that I was then, there was no way I was going to be of much more use to the Army really.
What sort of arms training did medical...?
None, we were unarmed, we were completely unarmed. We didn’t carry arms at all.


And you didn’t do any training back in Sydney before you left?
No, not with rifles no. No the only fellas in the Field Ambulance Unit that had a rifle were the drivers. The driver of each ambulance and his offsider they had a .303 rifle. And they kept them in the front cabin with themselves. I don’t know why they had them really except that they were not Medical Corp.


they were Army Service Corp., they were ASC. Attached to the Field Ambulance Unit really, part of the transport company. But the Field Ambulance men themselves the fellows who were working on the ambulances or who were stretcher bearers around the main dressing station. Places like that. And also we had fellows in the Field Ambulance, who were like, you’d almost call them nursing


orderlies. They’d, fellows who’d had a lot of training in hospitals back in Australia as orderlies. They often joined up and instead of being sent to a hospital they were sent to a Field Ambulance. Because, we had doctors in the Field Ambulance and we had these fellas who were able to, they were trained in medical matters. Unfortunately I wasn’t one of them, but we did have


some very highly trained medical personnel. They weren’t armed. Our doctors weren’t armed. Only the drivers.
Going back to the period when you joined up, were you aware, what was your awareness of the situation in Europe at the time?
Well I can remember thinking


how sad, how bad it was when the British Expeditionary Force was forced off France and had to get back to England again. We, I was very concerned and worried about he Germans. See the Germans in the 1920’s and 30’s had a pretty bad reputation.


There was a lot of propaganda about how, what terrible men the German soldier was in the First World War. And there were drawings in the papers and the, about, how Germans, German soldiers bayoneting women and things like this. And I grew up reading all this sort of stuff. And then when the Second World War broke out or


even before it broke out I should say, before the Second World War broke out I went through a period in the 1930’s when I was very concerned and apprehensive and worried about the spread of the Nazi Creed through the war. Because we’d go to the movies and we’d see the news reels of thousands of Germans in squares all hailing


Hitler and him going on with it and telling them they had to stand up for themselves. And what a marvellous, the Third Reich and what it was and so forth. And then in the movies pictures of thousands of German soldiers goose-stepping along and I’d think to myself “Christ Almighty what a force. This is terrible”. Well then of course


we knew that the British had a few soldiers in India, they had a few regiments over there. A bit of a territorial army over there in India. But they had nothing that looked like able to stand up to this big German Army. And of course we also read about the German tactics, or the Blitzkrieg tactics where they would roll in with their hundreds of tanks and


just roll through countries which they did of course during the war. And all this was pretty unsettling to a young nineteen, twenty year old in Australia. So I remember thinking well, I never thought that England would be defeated. I never thought that there was any chance of defeat. But I remember thinking well I think a lot of people have gotta


help out. And as I said before, I never had, I never felt that I could actually, although I wanted to actually kill anybody so I didn’t want to actually do anything like that. I knew the soldiers had to kill but I knew also that my father was a Field Ambulance man, a stretcher bearer. And I thought, yeah that’ll do me. I’ll help out by just being a Field Ambulance bloke.


What was your dad’s attitude to Germany?
Pretty well the same as mine. Yeah, he wasn’t impressed with the Germans who when they marched into Czechoslovakia and they marched into other countries over there and took over different places. And of course then finally they marched into Poland.


But most of us were not impressed with this. And most of us, we didn’t believe when Hitler would say things like, “This is my last demand. And no more, I don’t want to claim any more land”. Then there’d be another lot. It was a nasty time. If you could imagine what it’d be like today. If we had a country over there who was keen on


marching into and taking over completely. You know it’s not the same as what’s happening in Iraq at the moment. There we have a country Iraq, who’s, they’re not threatening anybody. And Ger, America’s decided just to walk in and take over. Well I think that’s very wrong indeed, very wrong. I know you don’t want to get on


what’s happening these days I suppose I shouldn’t. I suppose I shouldn’t say it but I’m totally shocked at what’s going on over there at the moment. I don’t think we should be there. Don’t think America should or England. I think that our dear friend Mr Howard is putting in Australia, putting Australia in a very, very bad light. Too many countries in the world. That’s my view about it what’s


happening now. For what it’s worth.
Do you compare the current conflict with World War II?
No I don’t. I don’t compare it because there’s no comparison. In World War II we had an aggressive man Hitler and Mussolini also who were keen to dominate the world. They were, and they did it, they tried to dominate. Here


we’ve got a number of countries in the world today who are, who have got bad leaders. And undoubtedly Saddam Hussein is one of them. You know he was one of them. I don’t think he’s a good leader. But then you’ve got blokes down in Africa too. Mugabe and those blokes down there in Zimbabwe or wherever it is. And you’ve got others in some of the other Arab states like Saudi Arabia where you’ve got a very


family of rich Princes who are Arab. And you know they, it’s totally different to what goes on over there. Totally different to what happened in the First, in the Second World War. Before the Second World War, my view now is that we should let these countries sort out their own problems. We shouldn’t be going into Iraq or any of those other countries.


But I foresee that shortly in the next year, or two years, America will want to invade Saudi Arabia, possibly Iran, possibly Syria. And where’s it’sit gonna end, I hate to think. I do, I hate to think about it.
Thanks very much, we’ve just come to the end of our second tape.
Fine. Cup of coffee?
Yeah, I reckon. Just a minute I’ll just detach you.
Interviewee: Gordon Hughes Archive ID 0049 Tape 03


I’d like to ask about the, you did a St John’s Ambulance course. What stage of your training was that done?
It was not during the training, it was done in, when I was, before the war when I was a teenager. Yeah. It was around about, I’m not sure of the exact year, might have been


1937, ‘6, ‘36 or ‘37. Yeah I would have been sixteen or seventeen. And I was with a group of fellows in Manly some of the names I’ve mentioned to you before. Ron Thompson and that and those blokes, and they, Murray Sinfield and they, we all decided we should do something. And somebody said “Well let’s do a St John’s Ambulance course”. So we did. Yeah. It was quite good.


Were you a keen swimmer?
Yes, I was. Yes I used to love to swim and surf. Did a lot of that. Yeah. Lovely place to go, too, you know. We lived at, when we first come to Manly we lived at Queenscliffe. Just opposite the water on the ocean beach. And oh yeah. Then later on we moved round to Fairlight Street near the big pool on the


harbour. And I was there when I was still going to school over at High and also when I started work. I was able to, in the summer time I would run from our place, down and have a swim in the pool and run back home and change and go to work. Very nice. I used to love the water.
How did the Depression affect your childhood?
Quite severely really when I look back on


it although I wasn’t aware of it at the time. As a young man all I knew was that my father and the father’s of many of my contemporaries were out of work. And my father, the building industry collapsed and there was nothing to build. Before that he’d built on the north coast, a lot of places up there. And when he was out of work, we did,


I didn’t know what to do, I didn’t even give it much thought. But mum and dad must have been very worried about it. Because they had to, to get some money they rented a very big house in Fairlight Street. And it had eight bedrooms, a big home. Only had the one bathroom but eight bedrooms. A big kitchen. The big kitchen had four big stoves in it, a couple of big sinks.


And they were able, it became for mum and dad a residential. In those days, the idea was that they would let out the bedrooms to people, to come and live there but everybody had to cook in the kitchen and eat out there as well. Some people did have little tables in their rooms and they would carry their food back to their own little bedroom. But most would eat around the kitchen area. My brother and I had a bedroom during the winter but


during the summer people from the country would come and stay with, at our place and we had to give up our bedroom. It was extra money coming in to the family. So Jack and I would sleep on the open veranda. And share mum and dad’s bedroom for dressing. And that’s how we survived the Depression by having this residential. Or as mum used to call it, her, our reso. The reso. Down in Fairlight Street.


was your relationship like with the reso’s?
With the people, the people that stayed there, very good. Very good. We had some, we’ve made some nice friends there. Some people from the country were lifelong friends then for my mum and dad. As I say I was only a teenager then but I can, I can still remember some of the young people. I can still remember some of their names. Like,


there was a Mr and Mrs Lewis and their daughter Hazel who used to come and stay with us all through the summer. They had a unit down in Manly opposite the pool and they would sub-let the, they only rented it, they would sub-let their unit out for better money and then come and live at my mother’s reso during the summer months. The three of them in the one room. Just,


Mr & Mrs Lewis and Hazel. I found out since that Hazel actually went to school in the same class as my wife Shirley. And I’ve seen her in the post war years several times. In fact I went to her wedding too. So we’ve got these acquaintances that I knew in those days. In the 1930’s.
When your parents


opposed your enlistment, did you have any arguments with them about it?
Yes, I remember having a few arguments with them yes. I was keen to go. But looking back on it, you know I can understand their reluctance. I know I would feel the same way if one of my sons or grandsons felt that he wanted to go to a war now.


I would be probably proud to think that he would want to go and help. But on the other hand I would be concerned for his welfare. His safety. So I could understand the way they felt. But being a young bloke I didn’t understand that at the time. I thought they were being obstructive and that they should let me go. Well we had some arguments. I never won them.
What did they say to win the arguments?


Well I think as I said to you before, one of the worst things that happened, I was quite concerned at the time when my mother told me she would cut off my arm before she would let me enlist. And I remember thinking at the time, she’s fair dinkum, she means it. But obviously she didn’t. But I remember thinking well the thought in her mind is of such a magnitude she has to say things like that to,


to dissuade me from it. From the thought. But by the time Italy came into the war I think she realised that I was going to be keen to go and so although she wouldn’t sign the papers herself, she didn’t mind when dad signed them finally.
And tell me about your dad signing the papers.
Well I can remember the day quite well. Because we were living in Balgowlah then and I went into Martin Place


and got the paper, got the form. And dad was then working as a carpenter in the Maritime Services Board in Sydney. And when he came home from work that night and Italy had come into the war. And I said “Well look I want to join up now”. And I think your, wont do any harm and so on. And I think I might have said something about “Well I’ll get a job well away from the front line. I’ll do something in the Army well away from the front line”. Something like that. Because


he said “Oh I’ll think about it for a couple of days”, he put the paper on the mantle piece. But after a couple of days he brought it down and signed it. So I think I might have told him a bit of a fib. Because I had no intention of getting a base job. But that’s what I told him something along those lines. I said “I’ll get a job well away from the front line, but I want to be a soldier”.
What were your real intentions?
I felt as if I wanted to be fairly


close to what was going on. I felt in those days that anybody who was working in a base job wasn’t really pulling his weight. Well, of course, I know now that you’ve gotta have people in base jobs. Otherwise there’s nobody can look after the people up the front. But as a youth I just felt that those base jobs, you know, I’d look down on them and I wouldn’t be impressed at all by anybody who had a base job. There was a neighbour of ours in Balgowlah


who got a job in the Q Store the Quarter Masters Store at Ingleburn Camp. And he wasn’t attached to any unit. He was actually on the Camp Staff. And he spent the whole war there. And I can remember thinking in those days, how unimpressed I was with his so-called service. You know that’s the way I looked at it, so-called, I didn’t regard that as service.
What did you regard it as?


Oh it was any civvy could have done that job. You wouldn’t have to be in the Army in uniform to do it. And that’s how I felt. I was quite wrong of course because the I realise now that you’ve gotta have the people in at various stages, right back here in Australia making the guns and working in the ammunition factories and everything else. You’ve gotta have all those people. And making the food and the clothing and everything else.


You know that’s a big, long, long chain. Goes right back. Just to keep a few people in the very front line. I suppose there was a certain degree of arrogance on my part to even think along those lines. But that’s how I felt then. I remember feeling well that’s not much of a thing to do. In the Q Store at a Camp, at Ingleburn Camp. Anyone can do that job.


Any civvy could do it.
What were your thoughts at that time about carrying a gun?
Well I didn’t want to, I just didn’t feel that I wanted to kill anybody. I don’t know why I didn’t because since then I’ve felt that I could kill people. Certain people. No I think that looking back on it


the young fellows that I played cricket with in those days in the Caledonian Club in Manly. The other fellows I played a bit of hockey with we all felt much the same as if we wanted to join up and do something but we baulked at the idea of actually having to kill anybody. And I think that that’s the way I


felt in those days. I didn’t want to do it. I wanted to help as much as I could. But not kill.
Do you know why that was?
No. I don’t. It might have had something to do with my, I suppose you could call it, religious teachings. Because as I said before, dad was a keen Elder in the Presbyterian Church. And he was always preaching


peace and all this sort of business to me and thou shalt not kill blah, blah. And it might have had something to do with that. I’m not sure. It could have had something to do with that. Because I know that I felt that I just couldn’t go that far and be a fair dinkum soldier.
What were your feelings about Germany at that time?
Oh I was quite fearful of Germany. I was worried


about the Germans. They were a race that wanted to take over the world. They, that’s how we felt, that’s how I felt. I thought to meself, they want to take over everybody. And with their militarism and their militaristic attitude to life, it was quite frightening really. This big force. Although we were a long way away, twelve thousand miles away from them it


was nevertheless an unsettling period. For me it was. Very unsettling. And I was worried. In the 1930’s I can remember feeling quite upset. I’d go to the movies to see a movie and they’d put on these news reels and every time you’d go you’d see thousands of Germans goose-stepping or running around with tanks or something or other. Hitler extolling to


live up to their heritage and be good Aryan Germans and so forth and so on. And of course there were rumours also in those days about the beginnings of the concentration camps and what was going on over there then. They got worse of course when the war broke out. But even in those days, he was turning on the Jews and anyone who disagreed with his creed.


What about hate, were there emotions of hate in you?
Probably, probably, I don’t know. I probably didn’t recognise it as such. But probably it would be, you could probably describe it as that. I think I could, it would probably be true to say that most of us hated the Germans in those days. Most of us did. Yeah. We felt that, we felt so badly about


them. They were such a nasty mob. That was out understanding. And I think that it probably could be described in those terms.
What did your father tell you about Field Ambulance work?
Very little. He used to tell me, he told me once or twice how the shelling was so bad in France that only


parts of bodies were found. I remember him telling me that. He only spoke about two or three times. He didn’t tell me, he didn’t talk about it very much. But he used to talk about how he would find part of an arm or part of a leg. Or some of the internal organs would be found. Squelching around, while they were walking around, they would be walking on dead bodies. Now I know this to be true. Cause I’ve


read stories since of the carnage of the men killed. So I can understand that dad would have been, my father would have been, he would’ve experienced these sort of things. Pretty unnerving for any man. And when you talk, when you listen to what the First War soldiers had to put up with. If you read their stories I should’ve said, not listen, now they’re no longer here. But if you read their stories


the war correspondents and even the photos they took in those days. And realise that some of the charges that they had, some of the attacks that were put on for them where a thousand men would have to go over the top and advance maybe three hundred yards into the face of machine guns. And they were virtually shoulder to shoulder. They didn’t spread out


and look after themselves. And the result was that probably more than fifty percent of them would be killed in the next two or three minutes. Terrible carnage. And of course then they couldn’t bring in the bodies. The stench from the dead bodies must have been shocking.


Knowing the carnage of the First War, what were you expecting to go into?
Well I’d seen movies of the First War, make up movies of the First World War. I’d seen what purported to be shell fire and so I was more or less expecting, when I got into Tobruk,


that there would be shell fire. There certainly was. I wasn’t expecting the great big bombs that the aeroplanes dropped on us. Although they weren’t nearly as big as they became later in the war. But I could remember being at an RAP and some planes came over. I think they might have been Italian. They were very high and they dropped these big bombs in the desert.


And we, I was told they’re five hundred pound bombs. Five hundred pounds. I remember thinking well they’ll never make a bomb bigger than that. Five hundred pounds. And of course it was only a few months later they had thousand pounders. And towards the end of the war they had bombs that were twenty-two thousand pounds. So there were some big ones. But the five hundred pounder was a big bomb that would make a hole in the desert big enough to hide a truck. You know, you’d put a


truck into it. Blow a big hole in the ground. But I was expecting all that. And it was, not being in the very front line itself I wasn’t exposed to personal attacks by the Germans or anything of that nature. But attacks by aeroplane and shell fire and mortar fire well yes we,


we Field Ambulance blokes, we were subjected to that of course.
Can you describe the sensation of being under an air attack?
Well you, I can remember, I remember thinking how necessary it is to get a little bit below ground. But really speaking that wouldn’t have saved either. Because if you were attacked by and you


were in a little hole, well the hole would have gone anyhow. But mostly when the shells were flying around, or shell fire or under mortar attack or an air attack. Most of us when we were in Tobruk and other places we just threw ourselves down on the desert. Tried to make ourselves as small a target as possible. And that usually helped.
Can you describe the sounds?


they didn’t have, with shell fire, of course, if you heard a shell coming through the air, you could pretty well guess it was gonna land a little way away. Because they used to say, forget who it was, they used to say you never hear the one that hits you. Certainly I never heard the one that hit me. But with the bombs they made a, quite


a shrieking sound loud whistling loud noise, very loud indeed. Truly thudded, big explosion at the end of it, course. Lot of smoke, lot of dust and a lot of shrapnel flying around. But you mostly, in the desert, we were able to get down and lay down and wait until it was over. Then you’d get up and resume your duties.


Whatever you were doing.
Was that difficult to do?
Oh no. Oh no you, everybody, everybody did the same thing. Everybody did the same thing and they would keep on doing the same thing you were doing before. As soon as the attack was over and the shell fire eased down and you’d just carry on whatever you were doing. Yeah.
How did you keep your focus on your work?


Well if there was something to do, if there was, you know, if we were at an RAP say to bring some men back, some wounded and there was some shells flying around outside, well nobody would suggest that we should move outside and stand up and start loading the ambulance while this was going on. You’d just wait until this was over. And


then you’d just keep on going then. If you actually, if you were going along in your ambulance and shell fire started around you which happened quite frequently in Tobruk. If you were going to, in the day time, if you were bringing back some wounded men in the day time, across the open desert. Well then the Germans from this particular point, Hill 209, they could see us. They were several miles away but they had a good view of the whole expanse.


And even though the Field Ambulance had a great big red sign on the side it from that distance the Germans may or may not have seen the, it was dusty, see everything was pretty dirty. But we were shelled quite often when we were coming back at day time. And usually the driver would then put his foot on the accelerator and go fast. To get away from the shells. But that was, only happened infrequently because


mostly we operated at night. Mostly we did. We’d come, we’d go out at night time and bring them back at night. It was a bit risky trying to get up too close in the day time. Because we could be seen.
What was the weather like?
Very hot during the day. I arrived there at the end of May and that was the beginning of their summer. And we went out the end of October. It was


quite cool. You’d need a, quite cool during the nights. But during the day time it was pretty hot. Yeah. No washing of course. You didn’t wash yourself. Everybody was very dirty, everybody. The Officers were dirty, and the men were dirty and the wounded men were very dirty. And we had to bandage them up or look after them with filthy dirty hands. It was no wonder that the wounds became infected.


Was there any techniques for preventing infection?
I don’t know of any, no I don’t know. When the wounds were infected, the infection wouldn’t start until probably two or three days after. You know not straight away. And the standard treatment back in the hospitals was sulphur. The,


what was the other stuff they invented about that time? Christ I can’t think of it now. But I know that when I was wounded, and by the time I got back to Palestine my wounds were very badly infected. And I can remember that they gave us big doses of sulphur to cure the infection. And oh penicillin, that’s what they invented, penicillin then later on.


But came into being but in 1942 the main treatment back at the 6th Australian General Hospital, as I remember it, was for infections, with sulphur. We were dosed up with that.
Was supplies a problem of sulphur?
I’ve got no idea really, that was outside my, my experience. I don’t know how, whether there were, was easy for them or not.


It was a good hospital though, back in Palestine. It was a lovely hospital. It was in buildings, timber buildings, one, just the one level. And there were about seventy-six beds I think in each ward. I was in a ward, where it was called the orthopaedic ward because it was for broken bones. Some fellas had legs off and arms off and others had smashed shoulders and whatever. And


the orthopaedic ward it was the smelliest ward too because of the stench of the rotting flesh. On the bodies of seventy-six men. Everybody had a smelly wound, so much so that visitors would come into the ward and you’d see them recoil. We got used to the smell, being the patient, but, living with it. The doctor in charge of


that ward was a fella called West, Major West. I believe he’s from Adelaide originally. And he was an orthopaedic surgeon. And he was, his technique of managing the wounds was that he would actually smell them. Now I don’t know what he got out of that but he used to get his nose right down alongside the great big smelly wound with the gangrenous flesh and everything there and sniff, sniff the wound itself.


And he’d get it within two or three inches of it so he got a good smell. Good sniff. I’ve seen him do it. He’d come in every day and he’d go around sniffing every wound. Amazing really. There was one Sister, who’s name was MacDonald and she was from Orange I remember her telling us once. And her job in that ward was, she’d start first thing in the morning, she had a great big trolley of dressings. And she would


go round and dress every wound. She had a pair of scissors and she would cut off the proud flesh with the pair of scissors and then dress the wound. And that was her job every day to dress... And she’d work at it all day and sometimes into the night she’d still be going. And back next morning with another trolley full of stuff. MacDonald, yeah, I remember her quite well.
What were you fed in the hospital?


fairly straight forward food. Nothing flash. But quite adequate, quite adequate. We were you’d get a stew, the cooks were good at making stews. That would be sort of beef and mixed with onion and other stuff. Bit sloppy but quite adequate really. Not bad. The best food that I ever had in,


in that hospital was when I found out that a VAD [Voluntary Aid Detachments} from Manly named Rita Hinde was working at the same hospital. And somehow or other, oh she, oh her mother knew my mother. And when my mother told Mrs Hinde here that, about Gordon being wounded and was in the 6th Hospital. And apparently Rita’s mother said oh that’s where Rita works. So she wrote over to her and said Gordon


Hughes is in your hospital. She found me, one day, I’d been there a couple of months or so or whatever. And Rita said to me “I’ll bring you down some nice food occasionally”. Well she didn’t do it everyday but maybe once every four or five days. Just before the main meal would come on and we were ready for it, Rita would walk in with a great big plate with a steak on it. A lovely steak. And I was the envy of all the


fellas round me. They used to, the fella in the next bed to me Cas Francis and Bill Darke on the other they used to go crook at me getting this lovely steak. I don’t know what it was, it would have been probably camel or donkey or something. But it was a nice bit of meat. And Rita Hinde used to bring that in to me. And I’d get a special, a special hoo-haa from all the other fellas around me.
What were you actually doing in the hospital day to day?


Doing all day? Just lay there. Nothing, didn’t do anything. Talk. Once we were able, we were all getting a bit better by now you see. We’d been, these were all the fellas who were wounded earlier in July around me. So as I say there was Cas Francis on that side and Bill Darke over there on that side. Cas had a great big shoulder wound and Bill Darke had this big bone here the thigh bone was smashed with


a bullet or something went right through. He was in the, they were both anti tank. That’s right they were, they were both 2/3rd anti tank boys. And we used to, didn’t do too much, just talk all day, nothing else to do.
What did you talk about?
About the, there was a fair bit of talk about the nurses of course you know. Some were good, some were


nice to look at. Some weren’t. Some were hard on us and tough. Yeah, well I can’t remember every subject but oh we’d talk about home of course. And Bill Darke would tell us about where he lived. And old Cas Francis would talk about where he lived. He was, he had a job, Cas Francis had a job, what was it now? Oh I can’t remember now, oh he was a drycleaner. That’s right.


Cas Francis was a drycleaner. He was in the dry-cleaning business. Bill Darke was used to deliver milk he told us once.
What was, were your feelings about home?
Oh well you’d think about home a fair bit, you know. I can remember one day in the hospital a Red Cross woman came into the, into the ward “Where’s Gordon Hughes, which is Gordon Hughes”. And


I said “Over here” so she came over. And she said “I’ve got a message here from your mother who wishes to send you her love” and so forth. Have you got any message for her? And I think I probably said something like “Oh yes I’m getting on real well tell her I’m getting on well. I’ll be probably coming home one of these days”. And you know I remember thinking isn’t that wonderful that my mother was able to, what happened was, she,


I found out later, she went into the Red Cross in Sydney. Red Cross place in Sydney. Told them that she had a son who, Richard Gordon Hughes, who was in hospital in Palestine somewhere. Well of course there was only the one big Australian hospital in Palestine so she couldn’t miss out on that one. And she asked if the Red Cross, could they send a message to me to say that she is thinking of me or something along those


lines. And they did! They sent a message over there and here’s this bloomin’ Red Cross woman came into the ward. Wasn’t that nice, it was lovely, I was pleased. And yes I found out that the bloke who advised my mother about that was a fella named Jack Boyd. And Jack Boyd was an old mate of mine, he was wounded in Tobruk on the 27th April, 1941. Which happened to be my birthday, that’s why I remember it. Jack Boyd.


And Jack, having been wounded, came back to Australia, long time before me. And he knew my mother and when I was wounded he apparently said to my mother, go into the Red Cross. You can get a message through them to Gordon. So that’s how it was done. Through Jack Boyd. As I say he was wounded on my birthday. Poor old Jack, he died some years ago now. Lived in Murwillumbah


when he was alive. Farmer. Yeah. Good friend of mine. I was his best man when he married. He married Nancy and he died, he died on the 3rd 1985. And I’ve got these dates firmly in my mind. Yeah, that was Jack. He died on the 3rd March, 1985. That


happened to be our wedding anniversary day. That’s how I remember that.
What was the morale like in the hospital?
Oh quite good, oh quite good. There was nobody, nobody at all thought the Germans would win at Alamein. We didn’t realise at stage what a big battle was gonna come up in October. We had no idea about that. It wasn’t until October came


around that we realised what a hell of a big battle that was day after day for them. And the tremendous casualties. But early in the piece, well we were all fellas wounded in the first battle there in July, we, oh no the morale was great. General Morshead our Commanding Officer, General commanding the 9th Division, he came through the ward twice that I can remember and spoke to every man in the ward, every bed. He’d just say “Who are you with?”


“Oh great, yeah, who are you with?” Yes, oh, very nice fellow. Leslie Morshead.
What do you recall about your encounter with General Morshead?
On just the one day? Well, on the two occasions that I spoke to him. Well it was very brief. He was mainly interested in the men from the fighting battalions. Because if there was a fella named Cooke who in the bed opposite me who had a very


bad wound to his leg there, he Cookey was in the 2/23rd Battalion as I remember. And I can remember Morshead stopping and saying “Who are you with?” “2/23rd Sir”. “Oh they’re doing’ a great job. They’re doin’ a, they’re givin’ ‘em hell you know” said Morshead. But when he’d come to someone like me, Field Ambulance bloke, he’d say who are you with? CNA Field Ambulance. “Oh very good, very good. Feeling alright? Good boy. Carry on”.


He was very interested, Morshead was a man, well he was called Ming the Merciless, you know. By the soldiers. But he was a very good soldier. And he was very, very keen to be shown as a sympathetic soldier to any of his men who were wounded. Yeah, very fine man. I met him after the war several times too through the Rats of Tobruk Association


with whom I’ve been associated for a number of years.
His, what did you feel about the extra steps he took to acknowledge fighting soldiers?
I was pleased, I was pleased. You know I knew that a war was all about killing. I knew that, I knew people had to be, people had to fight and someone had to do the killing. And I wasn’t prepared to do it but I knew


somebody had to do it. And I used to, I’ve always admired the men who did. I still do, I still admire the men who had the internal fortitude to front up and actually do that job. Someone has to do it. And but my particular make up didn’t allow me to feel that I should wanted to do it at all. I don’t think I’ve changed my mind there at all.


I’m still the same.
How did the fighting soldiers regard the Field Ambulance?
Quite good. They relied on us and so they were perfectly okay. They also relied on the men who cooked their meals who were two miles behind the front line in Tobruk, you know, or three miles back. They were quite happy with that. There had to be somebody at B Echelon and


was there cooking the tucker and bringing it up at night time for them to eat. And also they, the front line soldiers also felt that when it was their turn to come out of the line, they had to be, they might be able to walk back a few hundred yards back. But there had to be trucks there then to take them to the next position. Truck drivers and so forth. And then as far as food and ammunition went and so forth, they were also aware there had to


be ships coming up the coast from Alexandria and Mersa Matruh and these places. Up into Tobruk at night time. Bringing in the ammunition and the reinforcements, the men. And taking out the wounded, bringing them, taking them back out to Egypt and so forth. So that was, my experience, I’ve known a lot of the front line soldiers over the years, I’ve known a lot of them. And they’re, they’re


quite happy to acknowledge that they didn’t have the worst job in the world. They look at the sailors for instance, who, on those ships in the Mediterranean. Now something like, I haven’t got the exact figures here, I think it was something like twenty or twenty-four ships were sunk during the siege of Tobruk. Some were war ships and some were cargo ships. Some were


reasonably big, some were smallish. Something like seven or eight hundred sailors died. While the Tobruk siege was on. So you didn’t have to be a front line soldier to lose your life. And the front line soldiers acknowledged this.
Thanks, we’re just up to another tape change.
It’d be a good point to break.
Interviewee: Gordon Hughes Archive ID 0049 Tape 04


Can I, I’d like to ask when you were on the Field Ambulance and you’re possibly coming under enemy attack, how do you, do you know, I’ll re-phrase that. What sort of advance warning would you have?
None at all. The first thing you know, it’s


night time. Everything’s black for a start you know. And the driver was trying to come back without running into a mine field. And there’s no glass in the front of the Field Ambulance. That was taken out because they’d get better vision. And they would be going along very quietly. And I would be in the back probably holding someone’s leg or arm or whatever it was, the wound was, you know. And if the doctor had given me some instructions to keep the pressure on or


whatever. And I knew enough about the pressure points through my First Aid thing that I did. If the doctor said, you know, keep the pressure on here and don’t let it breathe, ah bleed. And all of a sudden there’d be a loud noise outside, that would be a shell bursting. And or maybe half a mile away, a few bombs falling. So there was no warning really. You’d just come, go through an area where


the Germans were attacking or the Italians.
Could you tell from the sounds what sort of attack it was?
Oh yes, the shell fire had a distinctive sound quite different to bombs. Yeah.
Can you describe the differences?
Well the difference was that the bombs coming down, you could hear the whistling of the bombs. Big whistle. Before they hit, very loud. You’d hear it if you were a mile away, you’d hear the big whistle of the bomb.


And what would you hear with a mortar?
Nothing. Nothing. The mortar’s were very silent. The mortar’s used to go so far. I’m not sure whether they went one mile or one mile and a half. They didn’t go very far. So after you left the RAP, would be for a while, you’d run out of range for them. You’d know that it wouldn’t be mortar. The mortar’s couldn’t, couldn’t


travel too far. They were limited by whatever distance they were, I forget now. But it wasn’t very far. You had to go right up fairly close to the RAP or the Battalion head quarters which was where we, we went as far as the Battalion head quarters. And that was always under, that could be under mortar attack and usually was. But once you moved back a little way, maybe half a mile or something then you knew you were out of mortar fire and also machine gun


fire. You’d be out of, you’d be away from that.
How fast did they drive the ambulances?
Pretty slow. We didn’t drive fast. Very slow. I would imagine the trip would take us about probably the best part of an hour to go five miles so. What, about five miles an hour.
And what was the reason for that?
We were driving in the dark, no lights. Didn’t show any lights. Didn’t have any


headlights. And the, they were just tracks in the desert that the drivers would be looking for. And on really dark nights one driver would actually get out of the, one driver would be behind the wheel, and the other fella would get out and sit out on the front mud guard. And hang on. And he would be directing the driver just a few yards behind him, a few feet behind him. Left or right or whatever.


There were some, you’d see, there were escarpments down which we had to go and there was usually a bit of a road down the escarpment. Well there were no rails on the side of the road. There was nothing like that. And it was fairly easy to run off. I’m pleased to say my ambulances never did. We got there every time. Some trucks did. Some men were actually killed in


Tobruk by accidents like that. Badly wounded and killed. So there were, you know accidents happen in war of course. That was one thing that was dangerous. Was driving round at night time.
What other sorts of things of obstacles were menacing night time driving?
Apart from the mines and the state of the road. Oh not much really, that was about it. Once you got, once you got back


towards where the advanced dressing station was, it was, the tracks were fairly easy to see even on a fairly dark night. You could pretty well follow the tracks. I remember Bill, big, Bill Williams he was driving with, he was driving the ambulance one night with me. We had, Bruce Wallace, was the other driver. And we actually bumped into a wire


fence. Well that was a mine field. But they knew enough about it to, to back back and keep away from it. The big mine fields were wired off with wire fences. Fairly safe from our point of view.
And how would you go about locating the wounded?
They were brought to us. Usually they were brought to us. Sometimes, sometimes we’d be in a place


like for instance, we might be waiting at an advanced dressing station. We used to call it the cab rank. Because there’d be a Field Ambulance, the vehicle would be at the RAP, there’d be another one waiting at the advanced dressing station. And when this one came back then this one would go out and take its place. Then this one here, having gone back further there’d be one come from the main dressing station would go out and wait there. Intermediate stops. And no matter where you were, accidents were


taking place. I can recall one day the, we were at the advance dressing station and we were just waiting for the other ambulance to come back so we would go up. When suddenly three or four fellows came towards us carrying a stretcher. And what it was, these were British soldiers, they were dynamiting a position to make a bit of a hole for themselves in the desert and the one


great big bit of rock apparently flew up into the air and hit this poor fellow on the back of the head. Crushed his head right in, hell of a mess. And they brought him over to where they could see the Field Ambulance, the vehicle there you see. So they brought him over there. We got patients not only from the front line but from the, what they call the blue line as well. As well as the red.
What were the most common type of injuries?


I, I’m not really sure about this, I’ve never studied the written record from the doctors as to what was the most common. But I would think that the most common injury in Tobruk was caused by mines. The number of fellas that we brought back with leg wounds and wounds up into the lower, the lower stomach area. They’d walk onto a mine and up it would come.


There were also the, I think the infantry used to call them, the jumping jack mines. These were where they’d walk on to something and it would cause a spring to propel the mine up into the air to about three feet high, then it would explode, straight into your stomach. So there were a lot of wounds like that, a lot of wounds in the lower part of the body yeah.
Were some wounds feared more than others?
Yeah I


think so. The mines were the worst. They, nobody liked the idea of the land mines. Because of the terrible wounds that you would get to the lower part of your body. Very few fellows survived those you see. Once the lower part of your body is torn away or filled with shrapnel, they wouldn’t last long. Few hours, possibly and fellows would die. Sometimes they’d die on the spot.


I suppose. They would, oh yeah, we’d, you’d see them bringing, they brought the bodies back. As far as the RAP. They wouldn’t give them, we wouldn’t have those. They would arrange their burial themselves from the unit. We only took back the fellas who were still alive. Although quite a few of those would die of course later on.
And what was the procedure that you followed for administering First Aid when you picked them up?


From the RAP you mean do you?
Or when you were first given a wounded, what did you do?
Well I would, if there was no-one there to do anything else, so for instance if there was no doctor anywhere close by, I would slap on a field dressing to stop the bleeding.
Can you tell me exactly how that is done?
Well you just bare the wound, wherever the wound was. I’d get a field dressing that was


big enough and they were quite big these field dressings, you know, and slap it on hard, tie it round, tie it hard. And that’s all. I didn’t have any medication to give them like morphine. I had nothing like that. I just had field dressings. Nothing else. Nothing.
And then they were taken...
Well I’d take them, I’d get them to a doctor as soon as I could, either to the advance dressing station or to the main dressing station.


You mentioned before that you’d often be applying pressure points.
Oh yes, if you couldn’t, if you couldn’t stop the bleeding by direct pressure on the wound well then I’d go for the pressure point wherever, I knew where it was and attempt to stem the bleeding. Sometimes I was successful and sometimes not. You know you can’t, all depends how bad the bleeding was and how bad, whether the patient could,


even bleeding from two or three wounds. Not everybody just had one simple wound. A lot of fellows, with, particularly with shrapnel wounds, they might finish up with, three, four, half a dozen nasty wounds. And trying to stop the bleeding on all those was not easy.
What, did you wash the blood away?
No, no we didn’t have any facilities to wash


it away.
So what would you do with the blood?
Well the blood that would get on to the stretcher you mean?
Well, nothing really. It would dry the next day. On the stretcher. You couldn’t, water was a problem in Tobruk. Water was a big problem. And we weren’t able to clean our stretchers. They were all soaked with blood. And also many of them became flyblown too, because of that. The blow flies would get them in the


day time while the, if the stretcher was sitting out in the sun. And there’d be, thousands of flies would be on to the blood on the stretcher. You know you’d soon have, you’d be shaking the maggots off then. But we couldn’t do anything about that. There was no water to clean the stretchers. So all the stretchers became soaked with blood. All of them.
And what about the ambulances? The interior?
Well you, the interior of the ambulance was


a stretcher. And when you’d take it out you had to get another stretcher and put it in there. Yes, there’d be a bit of blood lying around the ambulance too. On ourselves of course. But there was not enough water around to give anything a wash. Not even your hands, the Field Ambulance fellows themselves, we were as dirty as anybody else. Filthy. Very dirty. I, it’s


quite true when I tell you that in the five months I was there I never had a shower. So you can imagine what our bodily clean, filth was like. We were all filthy. Everybody.
Did you have trouble with, did you get a lot of blood on you?
Oh, I would have got from time to time. Yes. I would’ve. I don’t remember any particular occasion but there, yeah. I would’ve had blood on me of course.
So that would be added to


the dirt that a normal...
Yeah, that’s right. We were very dirty. That’s why I say, it’s no, looking back now, it’s no wonder that everybody, everybody with a wound, the wounds became infected. It was a real problem for them. But see even the doctors, they were dirty. The doctors who, not the ones in the hospital back at the town, they were able to wash. But the doctors who were out in the front line in the RAP or the advance dressing


stations they were dirty too. Every, we were all dirty.
What were the doctor’s feelings on the hygiene problems?
Well I never discussed it with any of the doctors but I, they wouldn’t have been happy, of course. With their training, they wouldn’t have been happy. Everybody was a bit grubby, very grubby in actual fact. You’ve only gotta look at some of the photos of the old soldiers in Tobruk to realise


how grotty we were. But we had to shave everyday.
How did you shave?
Well with a lot of diffic... we were supposed to shave everyday and must have every second or third day. You get a bottle of water and that was your drinking water but when we were at the RAP or the advance dressing station there was usually a cookhouse somewhere nearby where you’d get a


a cup of tea or something like that. But you didn’t have water to wash. Didn’t there, there was just no water. Didn’t wash our clothes, we’d wear them ‘til they fell off.
With your St John’s training, you said the doctor’s were disgusted at conditions. Was it a shock to you as well?
Well you know you can’t put too much on to


St John’s training. It was basic, primitive stuff we learned in those days. It wasn’t anything like the ambulance fellows who were on the streets these days no. You know they call them these days, they call them paramedics and so forth. We knew nothing like that. My training in the St John’s Ambulance as I recall, I learned about the various bones in the body, the femur and the humorous and things of this nature, , the radius and so forth and


so on. And I learned about the bones and I learned about the pressure points and I learned how to put on a bandage. And how to put on a sling to hold an arm like this and so forth. And it was about a, I think it might have been six or seven weeks, I’m not really sure of the exact time. But it wasn’t that long, a couple of nights a week or whatever. Then we got a little certificate to say we’d done it, a course in


First Aid. I don’t remember them saying that we did anything about hygiene but they probably did say that. Probably said make sure your hands are clean before you touch your wound. But things like went out the door as soon as you’re in a war zone. You didn’t have any, you couldn’t stop any, you didn’t have anything to wash in anyhow. No water. The water in Tobruk was pretty foul stuff you know. Used to smell.


Taste terrible.
What was it like to drink?
Terrible. Tasted terrible. It was a, the water came from two sources in Tobruk. There were a few underground, there were a few bores, I understand. I’ve read about them, I didn’t know where they were when I was there. And also there was a distilling plant that used to distil the sea


water. And we had some fellows from the 2/24th Field Park Company I believe they were who ran the distillery. And they would take this, pump in a bit of sea water and try and get the salt out of it. But it tasted foul. It was terrible stuff. Even when it was made into tea it was still crook. But it was all we had so we didn’t complain really.


Tell me about bringing in the wounded. Were there, did you talk to them in the ambulance?
Oh yeah my word. Oh yes that was part of the thing. If a man had a wound that the doctor felt he should stay awake, he would tell me to talk to him. Keep him awake, don’t let him go to sleep. I’m not sure now which wounds were that but other, mostly the doctors would tell me


where the wound was and what to do. What to care. If this bandage slips at all you stop the ambulance and do it up, this, that and the other. You know. The doctor would give me his instructions.
What sort of things would you say to them to keep them awake?
I’d ask them where they come from. In Sydney or Western Australia. Where do you live? You know, what mob are you with and things of that nature. I’d


sometimes ask them how they felt and is it very painful or whatever. But usually I’d try and go off their wound and talk about where do you come from. Where’d you live over there? What mob are you with? They were things that they could readily answer. And think about.
What about keeping their spirits up or something? Was that a part of it too?
No I don’t recall ever


thinking along those lines. I’d talk to them so I’d know they were still alive. And some blokes would have a minor, a minor wound, you know. Maybe a bit of shrapnel through the calf or something. Well they’d talk all the way back themselves. They’d be nagging their heads off. They’d be saying “Oh thank Christ I’m outa there. Oh gee it’s good-oh. I’ll be out, this won’t heal for a while, I’ll be out of this for a few more weeks”. And so they’d be


relieved that they had a bit of a, they’d go back to Alexandria. And then after the wound healed, they’d be back into it again. But they’d be happy.
What about self inflicted wounds, was that a problem?
It did happen, it did happen. And I’ve had several in the ambulance yes. I had


two in Tobruk and I had one at Alamein actually. The fellow at Alamein, that was a sad business. Because he was very broken up this fellow and he was, I think was in, I think he was an anti-tanker. Anyhow he had a wound in the foot, he shot himself in the foot. And apparently he was brought to me, to my ambulance by two British


Officers. And these Officers came up and they had this fellow helping him to walk along on one foot and dragging him along. And they hailed me, this was, must have been a good mile and a half or so behind the front line. We were going up towards the front line. And they were stopped and this fellow, this Officer bloke said to me “This man has wounded himself,


it’s an SIW” {Self Inflicted Wound]. And that’s serious. Now the rule was, of course, that each man had a little card on him with his name, whatever you could get out of him or from his little ticket. And if he had one of those cards on him, you knew he was a fair dinkum wounded soldier. And the rule was for an SIW, don’t put one of those on him. So that people would say “What’s


wrong you know? Why haven’t you got a card?” Well he would be an SIW. Now I knew this from Tobruk and this Officer fellow said to me at Alamein. He said “This fellow’s shot himself through the foot, he’s SIW. Now he doesn’t get a card, don’t give him a card and don’t make a special trip for him. You’re going up there to the RAP now. You keep on going and come back after you get a


load of wounded on your ambulance”. So we all said “Yes sir, yes sir, okay”. And they went away. Well I felt sorry for that Aussie. I did, I felt sorry for the poor bastard. And he was upset, he was trembling and everything. I think he was probably sorry he’d done it. He must have been in an extreme position


of fear when he decided to get out of the action by shooting himself. Anyhow he was with us for about the next hour or so. We took him up the line and we got some other wounded and I had feelings of compunction towards him and sorrow and feelings of sympathy and I wrote a card out for him. And pinned it on him and I said to him when we were going


back in the ambulance. I said to him “Now look, the only one who knows that you did it to yourself is me. And I won’t tell anybody and if you don’t tell anybody, nobody will know”. He seemed to be very grateful. I’ve never, I emptied him out at the, at the main dressing station, never saw him again. So whether he, whether he told anybody or whether somebody suspected I’ve got no idea. But I wrote a card out for him.


Gun shot wound, right or left foot or whatever it was. And let it go at that.
What was the general attitude towards self-inflicted wounds?
Well most soldiers understood that the man who did that had reached the end of his tether. He couldn’t go any further. It was the same as the blokes who didn’t shoot themselves but who were


unable to carry on with, you know, bad nerves. Their nerves would just go. They couldn’t carry on anymore. And they used to call it Anxiety something or other, something like that. Whatever they called it the doctors. And everybody, the soldiers understood. Some people even deserted. Got away from the army.


You know when the soldiers, when the 9th Division came back to Australia after they had been in action in Tobruk and Alamein, all those months. Some soldiers actually when they went up onto the Tablelands, I know this to be true even though I wasn’t there, they shot through. Deserted. Some of them went on holidays, and never went, went on leave and never returned to their unit. Went


undercover. Now I know several of these fellows over the years. I’ve met them in my, through my association with the Rats. And I know that they’re always welcome at our meetings. When we get together. No-one holds it against them because we understand that not everybody is built the same and not everybody can take the pressure. Some fellows just can’t take


as much pressure as others. And you’ve got to understand that. I think the old soldiers do.
Can I ask how you dealt with the pressure yourself?
Well I was very apprehensive at times and a bit nervous at times. But I never gave any thought to doing what some people might think was the wrong thing. I, like the other soldiers, I just put up


with it I suppose. But although it must be said that the amount of pressure that was on me wasn’t nearly as much as the fellas in the front line all the time. You know I might have been at an RAP which might have been half a mile behind the front line for a few hours. But then I’d come back and get out of it for a while I was discharging my wounded.


But the poor buggers that were in the front line day after day, night after night they were the ones who really had it tough. Really tough yeah. They were the ones that, you’ve got to admire them and say well I couldn’t have done that.
Can you tell me about discharging the wounded and how, what you actually did? What it looked like where you took them and what happened?


Well I’d get my, wherever I could, I’d get my instructions from the doctor. Every unit had one doctor at the RAP. There was a Sergeant also there. And as I say, I’d be told to do this or do that. Look after them. I remember some cases where they were bleeding internally


the doctor would give me a bottle of water. And the doctor would say keep him drinking, keep him drinking. This’ll keep him alive until we get him back. And it was true, apparently. Because I remember these fellows, bleeding internally, maybe a big hole in their guts or something and as long as they were able to keep the fluid into their system, from what


I understand, this is not a medico, you know, it’s my understanding, this would keep them alive. For the next hour maybe two hours. Until I got ‘em back to another doctor. As I recall my experiences along those lines, in those days, I had a fairly simple job, travelling with the wounded, and doing whatever I was told to do to keep ‘em alive in that hour or two hours before I


handed them over to more skilled hands.
Was there any paperwork with your job?
So what did handing over involve?
Taking them out of the ambulance and taking them into a cave or whatever that was there. And saying you know, “Another one”. And they would already have a ticket on them of course from the RAP. They’d always have a ticket on them. So the doctor, as soon as I, unless they were very, very


bad . For instance you know if you had a fellow who was bleeding internally and he was on the water all the time then as soon as I’d arrive back at the RAP I’d run in quickly and tell them. I’ve got a fella here and he needs some, better come and have a quick look at him and take him in straight away. Fellas with leg wounds or arm wounds they’d wait. Get the one who was badly wounded in first. And then we’d, you’d call the, at the main dressing station in Tobruk we had about


eight or nine Italians, soldiers, Italian soldiers there. They were prisoners of war who were completely harmless and were very pleased to be out of the war from their point of view. And they acted as stretcher bearers, taking the wounded from the ambulance and maybe into a cave or down a few steps into a dug out. And they were very kind men too. They were very careful with our wounded.


They wouldn’t have lasted in the job long if they had of been rough, of course. If they had’ve been rough they would’ve been right on to them. Yes I can remember when I came back from Alamein when I went from the 1st British to the, from the 8th British Hospital in Alex to the 1st British Hospital down the Canal. Got out of the, taken out on a stretcher, carried into this tent ward. And these were


Italians, too, carrying us in and then they had to lift me from the stretcher up on to the bed. And I can recall that this one Italian fellow put his arm round my middle because I had a big wound in the loin here. And he put his hand right on the big wound. He didn’t know it was there I suppose. Ooh it did hurt. And I can remember giving a bit of a “Ooh Christ” or “Be careful” something like that, and he


was so sorry. Yeah, very king fellows they were.
What were your feelings about the Italians generally?
Not as, I didn’t, I never hated the Italians. Never hated them at all. I never felt that they were much of a threat either. They, from what I’ve read, about what went on in those days, more than what


I saw, it would appear that the Italian’s Army in the Western Desert was not a particularly good fighting force. From what I’ve read.
But from what you felt at the time?
From what I felt at the time, well I never struck them in an angry mood. Because the Italians that I met were either wounded or they were prisoners of war, working for us behind the line.
And yet it was Italy’s entry in the War which was the


final spur?
Yes, it was, it was the final spur that made me join up. Quite true. Because we didn’t know what the Italians were like yet. Now the Italians were a fairly, well they didn’t want to fight. It was perfectly obvious. You know I wasn’t infantry so I never had to fight them. But I know from what I’ve been told and what I’ve read that they


were not hard to deal with. They didn’t have the same tenacity to fight on as the Germans did.
Did the Aussie blokes compare the Germans to the Italians?
The Aussie soldiers as I understand it recognised that the Italians soldiers were not good fighters and they gave in very quickly. There are many, many instances in the


war books of six or seven Australian soldiers out on patrol and meeting a group of maybe forty, fifty or even sixty Italians in a position. A few shots and all the Italians would put their hands up. And two or three soldiers would bring in maybe forty or fifty or sixty of them. So they, we didn’t have much trouble apparently with the, from what I’ve read. With the Italians.


Germans, quite different. They fought hard and, but of course, you know, we know who won in Tobruk, we know who won at Alamein and my view is that neither the Germans nor the Italians came up to the standard of the Australian fighting soldier. The Australian infantryman,


they were good.
What did the Australians have that the others didn’t?
Well it seems to me they had a stubborn streak in them. They were stubborn bastards, they weren’t gonna give in. Yeah, we didn’t have many Australians captured. When the German Blitzkrieg started in Tobruk. Was before I got there, it was April and I didn’t get there until the end of May. But from what I understand and what I’ve


read, when the Blitzkrieg, when the tanks rolled across and got over the bloody tank ditch, where the Australian soldiers were in their posts, they kept on going, the Australian soldiers just kept down out of sight and let the tanks go. But when the German infantry then followed on to hold the area, the Aussie soldiers stood up and cleaned them up.
Did you bring in Italian wounded?
Oh yeah. And


Just tell me a little about that?
The Italians were no trouble at all, the Germans were inclined to be very arrogant and very nasty. And those who could talk in English would be quick to tell me, you know, “You’ll soon be all caught. You’ll soon be captured”. And “The war will soon be over. Rommel will take Egypt”. And things like this. The Germans were an arrogant crowd. They were young fellas like I was. We’re


talking about men about twenty-one, twenty-two, twenty-three years of age. But the Italians were, wouldn’t say anything like that. The Italian wounded were happy to be looked after, happy to have their bandages checked and so forth and so on. And would even smile, they were pleased that they were out of the war.
How did you feel about treating the enemy?
It didn’t worry me at all. I knew that was part of my job.


I knew yeah. And also knew that they were disarmed, they didn’t have any arms, they were no threat to me.
But they were, did you ever feel like you could have been bringing in Australians but you were bringing in the enemy?
Well that was quite true but the enemy wounded never took precedence over the Australian wounded. The doctors at the RAP would, or the Sergeant at the RAP he would


indicate to me which wounded men would take first. Now there might be eight or nine wounded men in the dug out or whatever it was. And the man who was the worst wounded, the one who was gonna die in the next few hours, he wouldn’t get precedence from the doctor. The one who was the least wounded would get precedence. Because he had more chance of getting better and come back into the fight. And so the


doctors would be inclined to have, the critically wounded men would be put to one side. It’s a sad business. Very sad. But that’s how they felt, that’s how they felt that if anybody should go first. Now when there was a lull in the fighting and there was another ambulance there then the, then you’d take out the man who was now just about dead or would die very shortly.


What did it feel like leaving behind people to die?
I didn’t like it at all. But in my youth and in my inexperience I didn’t like it. But the more, the military attitude, which had been talked about obviously amongst the military people, and the doctors, the military attitude was


that a man who was just about to die shouldn’t take precedence over a man who was not so badly, who will recover. Yeah that seemed to be the rule of the day. And I struck it several times in Tobruk and at Alamein too. I remember the fellow at Alamein, I, this poor fellow, I was in a bit of a dug out, just a hole in the ground, and this poor fellow he was badly wounded.


Australian lad. And I was gonna take him. And the doctor said “No not him, leave him. Take this one”. And so there was quite a, it was a, if you could say, if you could use the word, that was the proper thing to do, to leave him. That was the understanding that I had. Wasn’t nice, I didn’t like it at all. I, as a very, as a young man and as an Aussie


you know, I thought to myself “Oh Christ Almighty, why are we leaving, he should go. We should get him back. Give him a chance”. But they’d be trying to pump some blood into him, you know, and give him morphine and calm him down, whatever had to be done. But you could see he was, you could see that they were gonna, that he was pretty well gone.
Okay thanks, I think we’re coming to the end of our tape.
Okay thanks very much.
Interviewee: Gordon Hughes Archive ID 0049 Tape 05


Gordon I just wanted to go back to the outbreak of war. Can you walk me through the actual day, what you’d been doing, who you were with, when you heard that war, that Australia was at war?
Yes I was working at a junior or intermediate accountant I think down at Nowra with James Taylor the auditor, Local Government auditor. And


it came over the air that night actually. I didn’t hear it but I heard some, we were talking in the lounge room down there and somebody came into the room and said “War has been declared”. And that was on the Sunday night, I think it was the 3rd September, 1939. And there was a feeling of some dismay that I heard this. Although I’d been terribly apprehensive about something terrible happening in the world


for several years with all the News Reel reports of the and newspaper reports about what was happening overseas. With Germany and Italy the way they were going on.
Those News Reels and newspaper reports, was the tone of them a call to arms? Was it demanding action on behalf of the Government? What was the tone of those reels?
Well there, generally, the tone was this is a report about what’s happening in Germany. And everyone else in the world


was hoping for peace. Including Mr Chamberlain, of , who made an abortive trip over to Germany to get, to sign Hitler up. And Hitler signed it, too, and Mr Chamberlain came back and waved the bit of paper and said “Peace in our time”. But it wasn’t to be.
Did you have your doubts about his statement, peace in our time?
No, no. I believed him.


We all believed him. We all thought “Oh well this is good. At least we’re gonna have peace in our time”, which is what we wanted. We wanted peace but it wasn’t to be.
Did that add to your anger that Hitler had in a way betrayed that agreement?
Yes, yeah it did. People, Hitler was completely untrustworthy. You couldn’t trust him at all. And people who did trust him regretted it. Regretted it later on. Everyone did.


Including the Germans later on. Even the Germans. They were all sucked in by him. Originally, at first. But I’m sure by the end of the war they all felt as if they regretted putting their trust in him. But he lead them down the path of destruction as we know.
Can you tell me about any German-Australian or Italian-Australian people that you knew in Australia?
I didn’t know any of them, no.


There were some Italians, of course, and Germans. And they were locked up during the war in camps. I didn’t know any of them.
So what were the sources of your knowledge about Germany and the German people, the Italians, Italian people?
Only what we heard and what my contemporaries knew and we’d talk about it . It wasn’t the all invasive thing that


took over our lives in the 1930’s. We led our normal lives as young teenage youth as we did with our camping and bush walking and swimming and so forth and so on. Sport, we still did sport. But it was in the background all the time. There was this latent threat, looming up and getting worse all the time with the gathering of the threat. It seemed to all come


together. Each, every few months or every year or so something big happened. Hitler would invade another country. Or make another demand and so it was unsettling.
And when you felt that threat from Germany, or you sensed that threat, what was it about the Australian lifestyle or the Australian way of life that you, that was most precious to you, that you wanted


to protect?
Well all of it, I suppose. You know we seemed to be living in a lovely country and everything was going fairly well. The Depression was over and people were getting work again. It wasn’t easy to get work for a long time. And when I left school it was pretty hard to get a job. But eventually I got a job and not earning much money, you know. But I had a job


and started on ten bob a week. That’s one, one dollar, one dollar, what, ten bob a week. I joined up in 1940, I was on thirty-five shillings a week. That’s three dollars fifty a week. Not big money but I managed alright.
Were you enjoying the accountancy work that you were doing?
Yes I was, I did enjoy it. Yes I used to, I was attending the metropolitan college at night time, two or three nights


a week. I was going to Languages Gymnasium in George Street to the Businessman’s Course they called it. And a lot of the young fellas would go to Languages Gymnasium, right opposite Wynyard it was. In George Street, upstairs. And we did exercises there. We didn’t strip off we’d, in our shirts. We’d take our jacket off and in our long pants and shirts


we’d do a few physical jerks. That’s what happened.
So it seemed from that you had quite a spirit of advancement. You were doing quite a lot of training and pursuing a better life?
Yeah, I remember thinking that it wasn’t a bad idea to engage in some physical exercises. So we did that. Cause I had a job I was sitting down all day. So I needed to do


something except sit down all night. And of course, you’ve gotta remember there was no television in those days or anything like that. My mother and father were one of the first people in the street to get a wireless. Or they’re called nowadays, radios. And it was marvellous to have a wireless. That was, I’m going right back now to the 1920’s when


I was a boy of about seven or eight. And I can remember that my mother and father bought this wireless from David Jones in Sydney, brought it home. And we were the only place in the whole street that had a wireless. And every night, my father had a, my father and mother had a home there that had a big back veranda enclosed. And they got chairs, dining chairs from all the other neighbours and set it up


row after row of chairs like a little movie house. And the wireless was in the corner. And the wireless would come if I remember round about four thirty or five o’clock in the afternoon for a children’s session. Then it would go off for a while then come back on at seven o’clock for the news and the neighbours used to come in. They were invited in. And sit in rows facing the wireless and listen to the news. It was quite fun


Was that the BBC World Service?
Yeah, it was 2B, no not World Service, it was 2BL. 2BL was yeah. That’s right. And the children’s session they had a bird called Hector. And the bird used to talk on the wireless. Course it was some bloke, of course. The bird would talk and say, “Well this is Hector speaking I’m sending a happy birthday today to so and so”, you know, little Jimmy


Smith and all that sort of business.
Can I ask you in that immediate period following the outbreak of war, the announcement of war, you took quite a bit of time to decide and to win your father’s permission over to enlist. What were your good mates doing, your close mates doing? Did they sign up straight away and?
No the group that I was hanging around in those days didn’t. Those fellas whose names I mentioned before like


Norm Smith and Murray Sinfield and Ron Thompson, they, we all kept on with our normal life for all those months. From September until about June next year. You know we were about eight or nine months before we heard the call. We were all. But as I said it was the entry of Italy into the war that convinced


us that we better join all these other fellas who were going over there. Yeah.
And when you did enlist and you’d completed your early training at the Showgrounds, you went out to Bathurst and we haven’t heard too much about Bathurst. Could you describe what their set-up was up there, what that was like?
I went to Ingleburn first, then to Bathurst. Well Bathurst was a new, newish camp. And they had huts there built for us. And it was quite a nice camp really. And ah


we were there for, I must have been there for two or three months. We used to go for long marches. Let me see I would’ve gone to Bathurst camp I reckon round about October because the soldiers who went on the Queen Mary in October to the Middle East they’d been to Bathurst Camp. And they vacated the camp and we went in there.


So October, then November, then we left there at the end of December yeah. That’s right. And it was all sheep country out there. It was very nice, so. You know you could roll around, we did, we went for long marches round the hills and rolling downs in Bathurst way. And we got a lot of leave too. We were allowed to go into the town and, which we did, I can remember one of fellas in there with whom I was


up there married in the town while we were still there. And he must have had a bit of money too because he put on a bit of a do at the local pub in Bathurst. And he invited a lot of, a lot of his soldiers, mates you know. I was one of them. I went in there too. And we all had a bit of the brown stuff. A bit of liquor, a bit of grog. Was quite good.
Were there quite a few of the soldiers getting married and sort of trying to


create a ?
I don’t remember any others except this one. But there probably were others, yeah, there would have been. But I don’t know who, I don’t remember any of them. We just had this one fellow who got married. I’ve even forgotten his bloomin’ name. But there it is.
How many people do you think, how many soldiers were they housing out at Bathurst?
Well I think there would have been a brigade there, I reckon there would have been a been


a brigade. About 5 000.
And in amongst that you were learning about the Field Ambulance and getting specialised training?
Well I wouldn’t call it that, you know. Because it was fairly elementary, basic sort of stuff. We were, the main idea, from looking back on it, the main idea in those days was to keep everybody fit and make them, occupy every day. One group had been over, gone over to the


Middle East in October. And I think that was part of the 7th Division if I remember rightly. And the other soldiers who were at Bathurst when I was there were men who were destined to go to Malaysia. 8th Division fellows. And of course we know what happened to them. But they, the, I think it was the 18th, 19th and 20th Battalions if I’m


not wrong there. And there were some engineers there, some signals and this group of fellows with whom I was, there must have been about seventy or eighty of us there by that time. I think they used to call us AMC Detail. We were all just waiting to be posted to Army Medical Corp units. That’s my recollection of it. And we, as I say we


left there in December, late December 1940 to come down to Sydney and get on the Queen Mary.
Do you remember any of the stereotypes that there might have been for the different specialisations? That the infantry were thought of as a bit thicker maybe or the artillery guys have a particular stereotype or the medical boys?
No, no, I can’t. No I can’t remember anything like that.


I don’t, there was very little to differentiate between the type of fellow who joined up to become an infantryman, or a signaller, or an engineer, or a pioneer. You know they all seemed to be young Aussie boys who were just keen to do something. And of course when they joined up, you see, when you joined up


originally, initially, most were just drafted into either infantry or artillery or whatever arbitrarily by the person, by the officer who was interviewing them as they joined up. They weren’t asked, they [were] just drafted. You know, “Alright you’ll be infantry”. And he would, that fellow, that particular officer, he would know that they wanted another five hundred men for infantry today. And they want fifty more pioneers. And so he would just direct the first


fifty men to the Pioneers, whoever they were. Unless they objected, unless they said something and, which I did of course. That was when I spoke up and said I wanted to be Field Ambulance. At that time.
Did you explain why?
No I wasn’t asked why so I didn’t explain why. But I remember that I, I saw him write on my Enlistment paper INF at the top and I wasn’t sure what that meant. But I thought to myself this must be the time where I’ve gotta speak up. So I said “Excuse me


Sir, I’d like to be Field Ambulance”. And he crossed that out and he wrote AAMC. Yep.
Was that something that you would’ve been concerned about expressing to the lads, to explaining that you’d?
I don’t think so, no. I didn’t know enough about the Army to really express an opinion about anything. With the, except that I knew, I felt that if I was going to be anything, I wanted


to be Field Ambulance.
I was thinking in particular to the fact that you did not want to be in a position where you had to kill someone else.
Quite true, yeah, I didn’t yeah.
Was that side of it something that you wanted to keep from people?
Oh, no I don’t remember saying that or thinking about that. I thought about it I should say but I don’t remember saying that to anybody. I might’ve. I was, I just felt that I wanted


to, I just wanted to be a Field Ambulance Officer. And I thought to myself, well I’ve got to do something here. I can’t sit home and do nothing. So I’ll go over there and help out if I can.
Was your father raised under Presbyterian values from a child as well?
Is that what drove his move into Field Ambulance, are you aware?
I don’t know. I don’t know what drove dad


or what caused him to finish up as a Field Ambulance man in the First World War. He never told me. He was a carpenter in civy life of course. He was twenty-five years of age when he joined up. They may have just been allocating the first fifty men to Field Ambulances for all I, I just don’t know.
When you came down to Sydney for your embarkation


and your trip abroad, can you tell me the scene down at Pyrmont with the Queen Mary?
Well I can remember coming down on the train. And we pulled into the wharf over there at Pyrmont. From memory it was over near where the Maritime Museum now is. That side. That was where the train line was. And one thing that did strike me at the


time, that hurt me very much, was that there were dozens of Military Police lining the area almost as if they were expecting us to bolt away and not go. Well we wanted to go. We wanted to be there. And a lot of us were very upset and hurt to think that the bloomin’ Army would do something like putting a whole lot of Military Police. Every five or ten yards there was a


Military Policeman right along the edge of the wharf. Not on the wharf, not on the harbour side but on the other side. And somebody said “Look at this they’re expecting us to do a bolter and get out of it”. And we weren’t of course we were quite happy to go. No-one tried to do a bolt. They were quite happy to, just get off the train and go in there. But there was a lot of booing going on towards the Military Police. They were, a lot of the fellows told the Military Police what they thought of them. They did.


Were they generally mistrusted through your Army experience, the Provosts?
Oh the Military Police, yeah, the Provo’s weren’t liked no. They weren’t no. Not at all. No. I only had the one run in with them. That was in Aleppo. One night. I was trying to get back to our billet and that was around, that was after we come out of Tobruk. We were up in Syria. And I’d been to a cafe` with some fellow who was a,


call it the Oxford Bar in Aleppo. And I’d been drinking in there with these fellows. They were a couple of New Zealanders and also a couple of free French Foreign Legionnaires. And in their traditional garb too. The Foreign Legionnaires. Anyhow one of them was a, from Belgium, the Foreign Legionnaire and the other one was from America, young fellow. And I’d been drinking with them and I had to be back in my billet that night by, I think the curfew was round about eight


o’clock. Well this was about ten or ten thirty. And I didn’t have many blocks to go but I was walking back and all of a sudden this truck pulled up alongside me and it was the Provo’s. And “Righto soldier get in the back”. So I was thrown into the boob, into the dungeon that night. Taken back to my unit the next morning and I think I was fined five shillings, which was a day’s pay.


So there we are.
Can you explain for me your first impressions of the Queen Mary?
Well she was, my first impression of the Queen Mary was I thought I’d get lost. She was so big. She was a lovely big ship. And I had a good cabin on A deck. A37 was the cabin number I remember. And she was a big ship. There were six men in the two berth cabin.


Three lots of two, double bunks. And we had a big bathroom, it was a big bathroom with a massive bath in it. And very comfortable really. The bath, the only bath water we could get was hot salt water. There was no fresh water. But so we had hot salt baths a couple of times a day. Plenty of it.
And did you feel quite safe, given her size?
Oh yeah, yeah. Quite safe.


Lovely big ship. Yeah, she was a magnificent big ship. She hardly moved in the open seas. You know we went across the bight and some fellas talked themselves into being sea sick but there was hardly a movement, it was a lovely boat. Lovely ship.
And did your sea journey have you thinking about what might have been, joining the Navy? As you tried to do?
Well yes I remember thinking that several times. And there were some Navy personnel on board too. They were being taken over to the


Middle East to join ships over there apparently. And yeah I remember talking to some of these fellows at different times. And wondering what it would have been like if I’d have been in a Navvy in uniform instead of this one. Yeah they were just thoughts.
And did you get a sense of the overall mood of those on board? Was it jovial or serious, nervous?
Oh no there,


there wasn’t too much of the serious mood on board. We were kept busy. When you join the Army the thing is to keep everybody busy and keep everybody active. Not let fellas just lay around doing nothing. And so we were busy everyday. If you didn’t have duties in the mess hall down below, that was a regular thing, everybody had to take their turn in on


duty down there. You were helping the cooks or serving or washing up or something. If you weren’t doing that, well then you were kept busy in deck doing exercises. There were lectures to go to on all sorts of supposedly interesting things like giving us an understanding of what the Hindus were doing. We wondered whether we were going to India at one stage. Because we had lectures on what the, how the Hindus look at


life. That sort of business. And then eventually as we come closer to the Middle East the lectures changed to what the Arabs think and how Islam works and all that sort of business. So we had officers on board who had obviously been given some instruction on those subjects and were able to give us little talks.
Was there no overtly military nature to any of the lectures?
Not to the ones I went to


no. It may have been for more senior officers, NCO’s [Non Commissioned Oficers] You know, they might have been given more instruction. Some of the fellas on board had to man the little anti-aircraft guns up on top. We weren’t asked to do anything like that.
Were there any submarine scares or aircraft scares on the way over?
No, no. Not all the way, no, not one.
Were you fearful of submarines at all?
Well it went through our minds of


course, you know, we wondered. There was, I don’t remember any discussions about it or anything of that nature. I can recall that there was only the one bloke on board. I don’t know what unit he belonged to whether it, he wasn’t one of the Field Ambulance fellows that were going over there. This fellow, tried to, somebody was saying, he tried to jump overboard. We were in the Indian Ocean at the time and apparently his


mates knew that he was a little bit unsettled. And he must have just done his lolly or something one day and he made a dash for the rail. But they grabbed him. And he, they had a padded cell down below and he finished up in the padded cell. And of course when they got to, when we got to Trincomalee they took him off and I believe he went back to Australia. He’d be discharged, he’d be unsuitable of course.
Did that become more freq,


instances, incidences like that become more frequent like that once you arrived?
No I don’t remember anything, no. He was the only one that I ever heard of. This fellow he was the talk of the ship for you know about five minutes. Everybody just got on with their life.
Can I ask about your day’s leave in Colombo? Was that an eye opening experience.
Quite good, it was lovely. We, I went ashore with, now let me see, Jack Lovell and Jack Hehir and


Bryce Hall and there might have been another one too. Anyhow about five or six of us went ashore and we were told, we didn’t have many hours, we only had, I think it was only about four or five hours we had on the ship, on the Dillwarra. And somebody said to us don’t miss going to Mount Lavinia. So we got a taxi and told this Indian bloke to drive us out to


Mount Lavinia. Which was a lovely seaside spot. Lovely hotel there. And we had a few drinks at this lovely hotel and got the cab, a taxi back. And that was it, that’s all I saw of Colombo. But as a matter of interest, I, years later when Shirley and I went over to England on a, what ship was that, that was the Italian ship


isn’t it terrible, the Dadai. We went from Sydney to over there in 1986 to all the way to Genoa. We called into Colombo for a couple of days. We had three days there actually. And on one of the days I said to Shirley “Get this cab and go out to Mount Lavinia”. And we did. And do you know it hasn’t changed. The hotel was the same as it was in 1940.


Same, 1940. Early ‘41. Hotel hadn’t changed and it was lovely to see it. And we walked into it, Shirley and I walked into the Mount Lavinia hotel and I was saying look this, this is where we all those years ago. That was in 1986. Amazing really.
And she did see very much on a war footing, in terms of being prepared for these constant influxes of troops. Were, was the infrastructure kind of set up in that way to kind of cater to the travelling through troops, the passing through troops?


Was the Dill?
The Dillwarra?
Oh the Dillwarra, well the Dillwarra was a trooper. She was built as a trooper.
Oh sorry the Dillwarra was the ship that you transferred to from the Queen Mary. Sorry I was thinking the ship was the town.
The other one was the Dadai.
It was actually in Colombo was it? In the ports? Sorry I thought you were saying the Dillwarra was the town.
No, no. Dillwarra was the name of the ship.
Was Colombo very much set up in a way to deal with the passing through of troops?


No, just a very nice clean town I thought in those days. It was very clean, very nice. And they didn’t have any trouble in those days like what they’re having nowadays with the Tamils, or they have had. There was nothing of that nature there, it was very quiet place. There was some big Army barracks there I recall. We passed them, we passed the Army barracks in this cab when we went out to Mount Lavinia. Didn’t see inside. We weren’t


there very long. Just long enough to go to Mount Lavinia and have a few grogs and come back to the ship. It was a very small incident for us.
And as you came up through the Red Sea and ended up in Gaza, did you have a sense that you were following in the footsteps of the World War One Veterans, of past Aussie troops?
I don’t remember thinking that, no. No I don’t remember thinking that. I felt more


about that when I got to Gaza. When I got to Gaza and because that’s where the Light Horse was in the First World War. But not when I was going up the Red Sea. No. We went up for, after we left the Red Sea we went right up and got off at Haifa. I think I told you that. Haifa. Which is a big place. Shirley and I were there also, five years ago actually in Haifa. We went over on another ship to England called the


Oriana. Which is five years ago. And we called into Haifa. And it had changed a lot since I was there in 1941. It’s a big place now.
What were your first impressions of Haifa?
In those days?
When you arrived?
Well it didn’t seem much of it initially because we were taken off the ship and put onto a train immediately. And there was no chance to look around very much.


Except that I remember these fellows who were calling out you’ll be sorry and things of that nature. The other Australians who were on the wharf. They must have been Transport Officers or Movement Officers or something like this. Because they didn’t have any duties to do they just walked around yelling out “You’ll be sorry”. And then we went down to Gaza by train and got out of the train and marched up to oh about a, it would be a good two mile march


I suppose from where the train left us to the camps in Hills, at Cairo 89. Yeah.
And what did you think when you arrived there? What were your initial impressions?
We were in tents and it was quite cold, it was end of January and quite cold. But I was anxious to find out


just how far away the war was. By this time, when we got there, the 6th Division had started it’s desert campaign. They’d captured Bardia and Tobruk and up near Benghazi by that time I think. And so we knew that there was a war going on not very far away. Just down and across the Canal and up into Egypt and that. And to Libya. I was just waiting on, we all were, we were just wanted to know, waiting on, to know


when are we gonna be taken into a unit and do something. And we weren’t, that didn’t happen for quite a few more months really. You know we got there at the end of January. And I didn’t go, it was, let me see, in April we were looking after the fellas who were getting off Greece and Crete, the end of April. And then we went up to Mersa Matruh. And it was in Mersa Matruh that we were told, now that


must have been some time in early May, then we actually went up to Tobruk at the end of May. Yeah.
Lets take you back to Grotto ‘89 in that period of waiting. Can you explain how any of the frustrations or the ways in which the waiting played with morale. Or how that period of waiting and not knowing what was ahead affected you?
I don’t think it affected our morale at all.


We might have, some of the fellas probably got a bit impatient about things. You know, day after day, week after week, route marching, marching down towards Gaza, going through Gaza. There were a number of little villages around there, Arab villages. We used to march right through the middle of these villages and then back to camp. Day after day. But also every two or three weeks we were allowed leave. And some of us were allowed to


go to Jerusalem. Others were allowed to go to Tel Aviv. And those who had money were allowed to go all the way down to Cairo. I wasn’t one of those but I had a, one day in Tel Aviv during that period. I had two or three days in Jerusalem. And on one day in Jerusalem, I went, we got a taxi


and we, two or three of us, and we went down to the Dead Sea, you know, right down there to Jericho and had a look round that area. The distance wasn’t far of course. It’s not a very long trip from Jerusalem down to the Dead Sea. I think it might have taken about half an hour in a taxi that’s all. Not very far.
Did you have a strong sense of the religious significance of a lot of the places you were visiting? Were they places


that you’d learned about as a child?
Well I knew about them of course, I knew about them. I wasn’t impressed at all. I never have been very impressed with a lot of the stories. I always felt that these were stories made up by a few old fellas sitting in caves, you know, a long time ago and so forth and so on. I,


I know that some of the blokes who were with me were very impressed with what we saw. And I can remember on one day... oh Christ we forgot to take that phone off... yes I can remember something funny that happened one day. We were in this Arab, this fellow, Arab bloke took us for a bit of a run in his cab over towards Bethlehem. And he stopped alongside


the road and he said “Come up here and I’ll show you something interesting”. And remember he’s an Arab and we’re not, you know different religious backgrounds, and so forth. But one of the blokes in the cab that day was a very ardent Catholic lad. And he was, everything was so magic, very magic to him. And we walked up and there was a great big rock and there was a bit of a depression in the rock.


And this fellow, this Arab bloke said, “Now this is very important to you people because this impression in the rock here, this is actually the footprint of Jesus Christ when he left this earth and went up to heaven”. And well, you know most of us just sniggered, “Oh yeah, yeah, I’m sure”. But this Catholic lad, he was very impressed with this. He started crossing himself and knelt down and kissed the ground.


And pulled out about a dozen sets of Rosary Beads and let them dangle in this little rock depression. And he said “I’ll send these home now. These are, it’s is a marvellous thing, you know, that this is the exact spot where Jesus left this earth and ascended into heaven”. And we all thought well good luck to you. But anyhow we didn’t say anything. But some people as I say were very impressed with the religious importance to them


of what we were seeing. And others weren’t. We just said “Oh that’s very interesting”.
What about its significance in terms of the amount of warfare that’s taken place there. Did you have an understanding of the history?
Well we did yeah we did. Because everywhere we went over there, through Palestine, right up through Syria and right up to the Turkish border, there were big stone monuments


carved in. You know, Napoleon was here or this is where the Crusaders were and things of this nature. Going back all these years. And so we were very aware of the fact that the whole area in the Middle East there has been subjected to Armies, coming and going for centuries. They still are. The whole area.
Did that change the way you felt


about being there?
Oh no I was just interested that’s all. I remember thinking well what do you know about that. Here’s a big Army, a big French Army, the Turkish Army coming down there. The British Army and the Crusaders, they went right through there. They built a lot of places that are still standing. Like the big Citadel outside, in the middle of Aleppo actually. The big Citadel there was built by


the Crusaders. Very awe inspiring edifice it is you know, big mounds of earth. And once you got up on top of that you could keep anybody down. With the weapons that they had in those days.
Right mate that’s the end of that tape.
Oh is it?
Interviewee: Gordon Hughes Archive ID 0049 Tape 06


I just wanted to follow up the point you were saying, about the stories that you knew of and that you’d been taught in your youth. You said you didn’t have much respect or appreciation for them, you thought they were written by old men in caves years ago. Although the stories didn’t appeal to you did you still have a strong spiritual side, a belief in God? At that time?


Well I don’t think so, no. No I don’t think so. I still haven’t. No I, the, I felt at that time that if there was a God around, if he was as good as people said he was, well he wouldn’t allow these terrible things to be happening in the world. And so that’s the sort of thing that I felt. And,


and I didn’t have, I didn’t have any of that deep faith that some fellas seemed to have. And they had to be crossing themselves all the time and going on. And, no I’ve always been a little bit cynical about the religious stories about a Maker who was so good to everybody. Because my experience is he’s not that bloody good at all. And when it comes to things like plagues and SARS, S.A.R.S., [Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome] this thing that’s going all around


nowadays and, you know, poor little boys over there in Iraq having arms blown off and lost all his family. And terrible things that are happening. And I think to myself well if there is a God, I’ve always thought this, if there was a God up there that’s as good as they say he is, well he wouldn’t be allowing this to happen. So that’s how I felt in those days.
Did you used to discuss that with your father?


I wasn’t no. Dad was very religious, I didn’t discuss things like that with him. I kept it to myself. Ron Thompson and I used to talk about this. He was my very best mate in those days. He felt the same as I did. But he had a religious mother and I had a religious father. And my mother was fairly religious too, my mother used to go to church. But Ron and I used to talk but oh no I wouldn’t tell dad about how I felt. Never did.
You obviously had a strong sense for


the values though that were behind his religion? In terms of the
Well I didn’t mind him feeling the way he did but I felt that I just didn’t have the same conviction.
And in your position as a Field Ambulance man you must have seen a lot of people grappling with that issue in their injured state or on, in their last moments.
Oh yeah, the wounded fellows that I dealt with over the five months


that I was in Tobruk and the four days at Alamein, quite a few of them would be saying little prayers as they were being brought back. They felt that they had to do that I suppose.
Do you think there were a few death bed conversions for want of a better term? Were people in that panicked state?
Oh I don’t know. I don’t know really. No I’m not skilled to comment on what how they felt really or to what


degree their convictions were fair dinkum. Or whether they were just grabbing at straws saying well I’ve got nothing else to lose, I better say a prayer. I don’t know on that one.
I guess I, just one last sort of point on that, I guess is whether seeing a lot of that though had you thinking about these issues quite a bit during your experience?
There wasn’t that much of it Most of the wounded men, most of the wounded Australians that I saw


just lay there quietly. Didn’t say much. A few wounded Italians that I saw were praying heavily, praying a lot. Loudly too, I remember that. But generally speaking most of the Aussies, wounded, even though they were badly wounded, even though they were dying, fellas with their stomachs hanging out, you know terrible, terrible injuries, they would


just lay quietly. Yeah they would. Several that I know did. Mumbling prayers and going so on and so forth. But most of them didn’t. I think they might have just kept it to themselves.
Was there a padre at the main dressing station?
No, no. There was no padre in the Field Ambulance unit.


None. No, there were one or two, each Battalion had a padre but not the Field Ambulance.
I’d like to just move on now to Alexandria. You’re obviously underway and knew you were on your way somewhere. Were you on your way to Tobruk when you came into?
On the way up you mean?
No, the only time I was in Alexandria


several times,
The first time...
In camp at Emmaria, yeah, that was in middle April 1941 when the fighting was going on in Greece and Crete. And they took us down to Alexandria, down to Emmaria camp which is about twenty miles out in the desert then back into Alexandria. And the ships were coming in and we worked on the wharves helping the Sixth Divvy fellows who’d been through this


terrible retreat. You know they got quite a bit of a hiding in Greece and Crete. Helping them off the ship. And there was food being cooked for them and we helped them with their food and so forth and so on. Helped them, handing out clothes and things. So we were used just as an auxiliary force there for a couple of weeks in late April 1941 helping these Australian soldiers who were being vacated.
How aware were you of the evacuations


and what had gone on in Greece and Crete?
We didn’t know much. No, didn’t know much at all. We were told a little bit but no we, there wasn’t, we didn’t have any news service or anything of that nature. Every now and then, every, as the soldiers came off, they would tell us more. They would say “Oh Christ it was bloody terrible” or whatever. Pleased to get away from that place or something.
So was their morale shaken?
No. Not it wasn’t. The Sixth Divvy boys were very good indeed.


They were tough soldiers, you know. 6th Division was a, they were a tough lot of soldiers. And they didn’t have, they weren’t strong enough, or didn’t have enough of them there to get the better of the German Blitzkrieg methods. And the Germans of course had all their airforce over there and they bombed the hell out of them. And from what I’ve, from what I


saw, of the Aussies, they didn’t feel defeated. I suppose they would call it a strategic withdrawal.
What were the main injuries that people had suffered in Greece and Crete?
Well pretty well the full range. You know there were broken arms, broken legs, smashed shoulders, head wounds. You know they’d be, they were put on the, helped on to the ships over there, then we helped them off


and there were, there were ambulances there, and they were taking them to a hospital in Port, Port Said, Port Sa-eed. And from there I suppose they’d go back to other hospitals. I didn’t, I didn’t have any knowledge of that. They would have.
Were there any particular illnesses or diseases that were, had been prevalent up on the European Continent as opposed to your experience down in Africa?


No, not really. Not that I know. None, I’ve never heard of any.
What about fellas suffering from shell shock or the psychological effects of the bombing they’d experienced?
They might have done, but I wasn’t aware at the time of any of those fellows exhibiting any signs. None at all. They seemed to be quite composed. They were pleased to be out of it. And you know I think if, well


as it was proved later, once they re-equipped them and they got over their wounds and re-joined their units, they proved to be the marvellous fighting force that they were in the original desert campaign. And they were yeah.
There was no sense of the controversy that had surrounded them being sent there in the first place was there?
To Greece and Crete?
No. We weren’t aware of any


controversy there. We know now having read the history books that quite a few of the Generals didn’t like the idea of them being taken out of the desert and sent over there. And quite a few of the Generals thought at that time that if they, the 6th Division had of stayed in the Western Desert, then they would have cleaned the Italians up completely all the way and held the whole area and places like the Siege of Tobruk and Alamein would never have happened. We know


that now in retrospect. But looking back, but in those days we didn’t know enough about it. I was a private soldier. Nobody told me anything much about these things.
Was there any of that talk in Tobruk or Alamein about having given up, having already won that space and then sending the boys to Greece? Was there talk that they shouldn’t have been taken out of their positions?
No, not to my knowledge. Not in those days. We just,


when you’re a private soldier in a Field Ambulance unit it would be no different to a private soldier in an infantry battalion. All you know is what you can see with your own eyes just a few hundred yards, what’s going on around you. That’s all you know, really.
Well dealing with that, how impressed were you by Alexandria and the port?
Oh, lovely port. Alexandria was a lovely, lovely city. Lovely big squares and a beautiful city. And


it was round about early May, just before I left Alexandria I got a letter from home telling me that Gwen Leggo, a Manly girl she would have been about ten years older than me at that time. But she was a school teacher at the Scottish School for Girls in Alex. Any my mother said to me, if you can get into Alexandria, see Gwen Leggo. Well I knew Gwen


Leggo. She was a friend of, her family were a friend of my mother. And I’d met Gwen, she was a woman approaching her late twenties when I was in my, twenty-one. And so one day I went into Alexandria from Emmaria camp and I found the Scottish School for Girls and met Gwen Leggo. Had afternoon tea with her in fact, it was lovely. Australian girl in the town.


And I’ve seen Gwen, she’s still alive, she’s now in her nineties. And she lives in Manly. Doesn’t call herself Gwen anymore now. She calls herself Gwenyth. But she used to be, in the old days she was Gwen.
And were there quite a few allied ships in the port?
Oh yes. Alexandria harbour was a very, very busy harbour. There were some big French war ships in the harbour


that were, they became Free French after the surrender of the French forces. But for a while before they were Free French I understand, I wasn’t there to see this, but I understand that there was a bit of a stand off you know between the British war ships and the French war ships as to whether there’d be a blow up, but there wasn’t. Apparently they, the French war ships were able


to become Free French. And on our side. Big harbour you know, quite a big harbour.
Did you board HMAS Stuart in Alexandria or was it...?
No, Mersa Matruh.
Mersa Matruh. Can you tell me...?
HMAS yeah.
Can you tell me about the Stuart?
The other, just briefly, the other interesting thing I’ll tell you about Alexandria is this. That one day I was at Alexandria and somebody said “Have you been to the zoo?” And I said “No I’d like to see the zoo”. So I went


round with a couple of fellows. We paid our money to go into the zoo in Alex. And I’ll tell you this, it was the funniest thing. Because inside the zoo, they had a few animals there but mostly they had, most animals they had were camels. Here in Egypt, you know. Now there were fifty thousand camels out in Alex wandering round the streets and inside the zoo they had camels. Anyhow, we went to, you were talking about the HMAS


Stuart, yeah. in Mersa Matruh.
Yes, can you tell me about laying your eyes on her for the first time and boarding?
Yeah, we went, we left Emmaria camp and we went by train to Mersa Matruh which was the terminus along there. And Mersa Matruh was an old Egyptian Army Post. And we were put into some barracks there. We lived in these barracks for about a week


I suppose. They were just concrete rooms with nothing in them at all just concrete. And we went for a couple of route marches down towards the harbour. The harbour was beautiful, it was almost oval in shape and lovely clear water. My God the water in Mersa Matruh harbour was lovely. And on the waterfront was a big building that had been a hotel. Pock-marked now with shell holes


all over it. And this was a place where all the very rich people in round the Mediterranean before the war, went for their holidays. Mersa Matruh. And so one day we were marched down to the harbour and with all our packs and everything, ready to go. And there was the HM, this little Australian destroyer pulled up alongside the wharf and we sat there


for a while on our packs on the wharf. And then after a while we were taken on the ship. And she was, there were three actually. There was the Tobruk, the Vendetta, Australian, did I say Tobruk, I meant the Stuart. There was the Stuart, the Vendetta and the British destroyer called the HMS Defender. Those three. And round about two o’clock


in the afternoon we, the, they, the sailors got the lines off and we set sail out of the big lagoon, out of the heads. And set sail for Tobruk. And we arrived in Tobruk round about twelve o’clock that night.
What were the ocean conditions like?
Quite calm. It was, I’m not sure what time it was but it was just on dusk that


and I can remember that we saw this submarine on the surface, several miles in front of us. And I’ve discussed this with a fellow who was on the ship at the same time, who was a sailor on board, Kenny Ward. He lives in Sydney, still nice, still see him, a lot of Ken. I said to Ken one day, on that trip that I was on there was a submarine. He said I remember it well because he was on the bridge. He was


one of the lookouts, a sailor. And that was quite an exciting time. Because it was the first time that I, well the only time actually that I was on a ship, that when they were sending the depth charges over. As soon as they saw that submarine on the surface, they pushed, the sailors pushed we soldiers into the fore-deck area underneath. Where the sailors live in the mess deck area.


Get us out of the way, we were pushed into there. So we didn’t see anything else then but we heard it. Because as the Stuart went over the spot where they hoped they would get the submarine, she’d, must have gone under. We could hear these tremendous explosions. These were the depth charges going off at the back of the ship. And after sending off all the the depth charges, off the three ships, the three ships, the Stuart and the Vendetta and the Defender lay


quietly there and we were told not to make a noise. Not to say, not to even talk. And they were listening for sounds of the submarine. And after a long time, might have been twenty minutes or half an hour of that, over the tannoy on the ship, I heard the Captain say well “Defender will stay here and see if it can get the sub and Stuart and Vendetta will go on”. So we went on to Tobruk and I’ve got no idea


whether they ever got that sub or not. But that was my only introduction to, the only experience I’ve ever had with the war at sea. Witnessing these sailors. Yeah, they did a good job those boys.
Had they mentioned at all the difficulties that they’d had in getting in and out of Tobruk?
No, no, the sailors didn’t say anything no. We hardly spoke to them, they were all busy. They were running a


ship. Those who were on lookout, were on lookout, those who were on guns and scanning the skies, you know, they were busy. We were passengers. And our, we just had to keep out of the way really.
So Tobruk would have been in complete darkness was she when you ... ?
Oh yes at midnight yeah, midnight. Midnight we pulled into the harbour and pulled up alongside one of the wharves and we were off loaded there.
Were you moved away


before sunrise or did you see the ... ?
Oh yeah, we were straight away. There were some trucks there, we climbed into the back of these trucks. And we were taken up to the Wadi Auda that’s A-U-D-A Auda. And I didn’t know it was a Wadi Auda then but I know it is now. And we were told to get out of the trucks and lay down and have sleep. Which we did.
Probably a good time to ask you, yesterday I just was wondering why the ocean wasn’t utilised as


a place to wash yourselves and to wash the stretchers and things.
Oh it was, yeah well it was. For several months in Tobruk, right from the beginning, like in from early April and May and even June and even I think into about the mid of July those soldiers who were well away from the ocean were taken down in trucks and allowed to have a swim in the


Mediterranean. The lucky ones were the fellows who were stationed permanently along the coast and in, around Tobruk harbour. Now interestingly enough I never saw Tobruk in daylight. The town itself that is. Because we were off loaded at midnight and taken over to this Wadi where we had the night and then taken out about eight or nine miles out into the desert which was to be my permanent place.


Because unlike the infantry battalions, the Field Ambulance stayed in the one place all the time we were there. We were never moved. And when the time came to vacate Tobruk, again, we got on to the trucks about eight or nine o’clock at night, about eight or nine miles out into the desert, taken into the town in the dark. So I never actually saw the township of Tobruk in daylight. I’ve only seen photos of it


in the war books. I can remember getting off the ship well enough, I can remember the time that we left Tobruk and got on the Abdiel. But my time in Tobruk was about eight or nine miles out in the desert. I would love to have, they actually had to stop taking the soldiers down there. I read this only not long ago. The infantry used to be taken down to the front line


and then they would be put in trucks and given, maybe every month or every couple of months, given a trip down to the ocean to have a bit of a dip and wash their clothes. But about half way through the siege, they nearly ran out of petrol. They were using too much petrol doing things like this instead of giving it to the tanks and so forth. And Morshead gave an instruction, no more, no more. Stop this business of just taking troops down for a swim. They


can’t have petrol doing that. So that was cut out. But they did do it for the first few, two or three months I believe.
And when you arrived at your position next morning, where the Field Ambulance were operating, was there a hand-over period between the Field Ambulance who had already been there?
No, I joined the Field Ambulance, I joined the 2/8th Field Ambulance. It was there.
I was, sorry, they were already there.
I was a reinforcement.


I was a reinforcement to the unit.
And you were impressed by the routine that they had in place?
I, you know, they’d been there for two months. They got there early April and this was the end of May. And the war had more or less settled down to a pattern in Tobruk. The siege, the Germans, from what I’ve read, the Germans realised that they weren’t gonna take Tobruk,


not then, because there was too much opposition. The big British Army was down on the border, a couple of hundred miles away. They had a long way to go to come up and relieve Tobruk and the instructions to the Australians in Tobruk and to the British in Tobruk, the instructions were hold the place. Now they settled down into a pattern then of regular work,


regular patrols and so on. From the 2/8th Field Ambulance, my unit, they, we had a set place from which to bring back the casualties. Although the battalions changed on the front line, they were changing all the time. Every couple of weeks they’d change. We still, our ambulances went to the same place and brought them back to the same advance dressing station the main dressing station. It was fairly routine


by the time I got there. And I just had to get used to the routine.
Was boredom then a problem from your viewpoint?
Oh no, I wouldn’t say boredom no, no. No, I don’t ever remember feeling bored.
You were aware that you’d been brought in as a reinforcement because of the forty-one Field Ambulance men who’d been killed...
Captured. They were captured.
Did that shatter any illusions you had about the safety of the Field Ambulance?


Oh, no, I never felt that the Field Ambulance work was particularly safe. Because although we weren’t actually doing any hand to hand fighting with anybody, and we were unarmed and all this sort of business, there’s always a certain degree of risk if you’re going into areas where the shelling is, the mortaring and of course even right back in the main dressing station.


That area was bombed. So I don’t ever remember feeling that there was no risk. I forget now how many Field Ambulance men were killed but there were several killed in Tobruk, there were quite a few wounded. And our casualties at Alamein were reasonably high. Something like, the total casualties I think of the 2/8th Field Ambulance at Alamein were about twenty percent, about one man in every


five was either killed or wounded at Alamein. Quite a few. So there was a, I’d say it was a reasonably risky occupation. Although not nearly as much of course as the front line men. They had the job and they were the good boys.
For the front line men, the infantrymen who were injured on that front line


were they just carried back by their fellow soldiers to the RAP? Were there stretcher bearers?
Yeah, they, each unit, each infantry battalion had a number of stretcher bearers who were usually the bandsmen in the unit. They were the fellas who played the musical instruments. When they went into action, they became stretcher bearers. So they were allowed to, they weren’t Field Ambulance, so they were allowed to be armed as well. They


could be but their job was to be a stretcher bearer. And the wounded came back to the RAP. That’s the Regimental Aid Post. The wounded came back there by various means in Tobruk. Sometimes they were carried all the way but other times they were brought back by little trucks who would go out as far as they could and pick them up and bring them back. And then of course the men who were wounded right out in


front of the front line who were out on patrol, they had to be carried back by on the shoulders of their mates usually, or something like that. They didn’t have stretchers out there. The patrol would go out, they wouldn’t carry stretchers with them. Maybe ten or fifteen men would go out and if anyone was wounded, they had to be, help them back the best way they could. On their shoulders usually.
Very tough.
Yeah they were tough men.
How did your


shifts operate, were you on certain hours per day?
Oh no, no, nothing like that. Twenty-four hours, you were on duty all the time. Everyone, on duty. No there were no shifts, no nothing.
Obviously you weren’t then doing constant runs back and forth?
Yeah, but....
How many runs would you do a day?
You might do one a day. Then the rest of the time you’re sitting around waiting for something to happen. But there wasn’t a shift, you were on call, you couldn’t wander


away. You know, they used to refer it as the cab rank business as I explained yesterday. And there might be two Field Ambulances vehicles back at the main dressing station for several hours. Then when one would come in from the front line area and off load then one of these two would go out and take it’s place. So you had to hang around and wait until you


were called. And that’s what we did.
And you could fit four injured, there were four, spots for four injured people in the back?
Four stretchers, two and two.
And how many of you were there in the back?
Just me. Yeah, just the one man. One man yep. And two drivers in the front.
How would you deal with a situation then where it was necessary for you to apply pressure or, there was stuff you needed to tend to the


four different men?
Well you just did the best you could, you know. I can, I can’t remember any occasion when I had to leave one and dash quickly to another but then there might have been. It was, when you bring them, having brought them back then you don’t particularly remember many of them. You don’t remember the individual cases. I had them in the ambulance for up to


an hour, hour and a half, two hours that’s all. And then they’re taken out and put into more skilled hands. Back there where they’ve got time and light and everything else to look after them. You don’t, I don’t particularly remember many of them. But one I can remember was a fella. He was a Captain in the 2/5th called Lance Bode B-O-D-E. Killed at Alamein , I think. I’m not sure about that.


And I’ll never forget this bloke. We were out at the RAP and he came in, and his face was, he had this great big abscess on his, one of his teeth you see. And his face was swollen out like a big football on the side of his face. He was in great pain. And I don’t know where he got it but he had rum. Somebody had given him rum to help deaden the pain. Well of course it not only


deadened the pain but it made him very noisy. And we didn’t have any wounded men at the round. But I remember the doctor at the RAP come over to us and he said “You better take Captain Bode back now. Because if he hangs round here he’ll just be a nuisance”. So we took him back to the main dressing station. We didn’t have to call into the advance dressing station, took him all the way back and off-loaded him.


And he was sitting in the back of the ambulance with me singing. He was reasonably happy because he was, he had plenty of anaesthetic for his big abscess. Lance Bode. He was, from what I’ve read about the same fellow, that’s the only time I ever struck him, but I remember him well, I remember the name well but I do remember, I do know this. That he was highly thought of in the 2/15th Battalion. Very fine Australian


soldier. Who was, I’m sure he was killed at Alamein. Would have been lost, a great loss to his unit I’m sure. Yeah.
Can you tell me about Colonel Hanson, your CO?
Yeah he was a very fine Commanding Officer. Bill Hanson, lovely, lovely fellow. Who, he was, I’m


told that he was a radiologist. But he was keen on military in Adelaide before the war. And I think he was in the old militia in those days. And he was, he was a, very keen on setting up a good medical service for the evacuation of wounded. And before I got there into Tobruk,


he had organised this system of the vehicles to replace each one. As soon as one would come back, the other one would go out, and so forth and so on. So Bill Hanson, Capt., Colonel Hanson had arranged all this before I got there. And he was very good to his men. When I was wounded at Alamein he, after I was wounded, back in the hospital, I received a lovely letter from him. Well you know I was only a private


soldier, a reinforcement at that. But here he was, he’d taken time off to write me a very nice letter. And unfortunately I lost it. I’d love to have still had that letter now. Bill Hanson lived to be a very old man and many times since the war I’ve been over to Adelaide and marched over there with some of the, my old mates, who used to, still live there, some of them. And I’d meet Bill again,


Bill Hanson. And he used to say call me Bill. He would, before, during the war he didn’t say that but after the war. Before, during the war he was Colonel of course. A lovely man and a good soldier. He did a lot of work, a lot of very good work towards the evacuation of wounded soldiers throughout the war. Not just at Tobruk and Alamein, other places too.
What then do you think are the


most important elements of good leadership?
Well I should think that one of the most important things for a good leader is to have the confidence of the people that he’s leading. Without that he could hardly lead anything. And the fellows who went through the war and who became very, very senior officers,


Morshead was one and General John Broadbent was another and you know fellas like Colonel Hanson and others. They had the confidence of the men, of the Officers and the men and they had to lead. And probably that’s one of the most important things. Then, of course, the other thing is to have a proper appreciation of what had to be done. And these fellas who’d been in the militia before the


war, they had studied military tactics and so forth. And they knew a lot more about the war than fellas like myself who, I wasn’t in the militia. I knew nothing about the Army when ar came. And so I had to be told what to do. And these fellas told me. And they were very good at it too.


Were any of your leaders, at that very senior level or even within the ranks of Sergeant or within the ranks of the troops, were there any that didn’t have your confidence, or didn’t have your trust and respect?
No I can’t say there were any that I didn’t trust. Or have their respect. Or have respect for them. My experience the fellas with whom I come in contact, the senior,


and junior officers with whom I came in contact, I’d say they all knew what they were doing. I didn’t strike, I didn’t have to, I didn’t come into contact with the men who were actually fighting the war. You see, in the Field Ambulance you don’t. But the officers who, Field Ambulance fellows or fellows who the officers who worked in the unit round the head quarters of the unit, round the head quarter company such as the


RAP Medical Officer or the RAP Sergeant, I don’t remember having any feelings other than that I knew I could trust them.
At what point did you start to appreciate the worth of the job you were doing? You said, I got the impression yesterday you felt that by not fighting and not being in that front line, that perhaps your job


wasn’t as worthwhile. Was there a point where you started to appreciate the worth of what you were doing?
Oh excuse me. Well I don’t think I ever thought my job wasn’t, the job I had to do wasn’t worthwhile. I suppose I felt like it was worthwhile enough. But it’s true to say that I think that when you’re in a Field Ambulance unit, you know, that there are other fellas, other men, young men in other units who are doing a lot more to end


the war. To bring the war to a successful conclusion than you are. That’s the sort of impression that I had in those days. But having been in the Field Ambulance for some months and having given it a little bit of thought, not very much, to transferring to another unit and maybe a fighting unit even. I remember thinking well these fellas have all had their training with their


rifles and their bayonet charge and they know what to do, how to, and I know nothing. So if I transferred I’d be floundering. I wouldn’t know what to do. So I dismissed that thought from my mind. And I stayed with the Field Ambulance. Well as it happened of course I wasn’t with the Field Ambulance very long because by July ‘42 that was the end of the war for me. It came to that quick conclusion one night. Very quick.
It’s a good place to


swap tapes.
How do you know you’re gonna swap tapes?
Interviewee: Gordon Hughes Archive ID 0049 Tape 07


I just wanted to pick up on a point that came up at the end of that last tape, which was that you actually had been considering joining a fighting unit. What had, what occurred in your experience, what were you experiencing that made you question that strong principal of not picking up an arm, not picking up a weapon?
Oh only the fact


that there were fighting units, like artillery where you don’t have hand to hand, the ASC, the Army Service Corp. and signals, who I thought, I remember very fleetingly thinking this, it was not a big thing with me, but I remember thinking very fleetingly perhaps I would be making a better contribution than staying in this non combatant unit. If I was in a


unit where they’re classed as combatants even though they’re not actually front line combatants. But as I say it was a very fleeting thought because I knew nothing about signals, I knew nothing much about the ASC. I couldn’t drive so ASC wouldn’t have held me. And I certainly didn’t want to get into a unit where I would’ve had to have, I would’ve been behind so many who had lots of training. For instance in the artillery, they go through weeks and


weeks and weeks of how to fire those big guns. You know the 25 pounders, 18 pounders and so forth. Well I knew nothing about it. So I decided to stay where I was.
I’m interested in how you coped with seeing so many injuries and seeing so much blood and probably would’ve, I imagined, to be quite traumatic sights. How did you cope with it?
Well you actually, I suppose it is traumatic to an extent, but it’s amazing how


you can detach yourself away from that when you’ve got to do something to help somebody. And so it’s not the terror of the trauma so much because you’re busy. You’ve gotta do something. And I think it’s the same way nowadays with these fellas on, with all the crashes on the roads with, they go along and they find


mutilated bodies and half dead bodies or even dead bodies. And because they’ve gotta be busy and do something they learn to live, you learn to live with these sort of things. You do. You learn to live with them. They do.
Did you feel that accumulating though?
No. I don’t remember that no. I don’t remember being, feeling like that at all. No.


I’d like to just move along to Syria now. And could you tell us about your transportation to get up to Syria? How you travelled up there from Palestine I believe it was?
I went up in the back of an ambulance, driven by Jimmy Welsh and Bruce Wallace. Those two fellows drove and there was nobody else in the back of the ambulance except me.


I was to serve in Syria with Bruce Wallace and Jimmy Welsh for almost five of the six months that I was there. And we got up to Aleppo. Took us several days to drive up that far. We got up to Aleppo and there was a sort of a little hospital in Aleppo. We were billeted in a three storey building on the other side of the town from where the hospital


was. And not far from, only about three blocks away from that famous Oxford Bar that I, we used to have a few drinks every night. And from there we would go out to places on the border like Afreen and Italib and so forth and so on. And sit around in the ambulance and wait until such time as we got someone to take back into the little hospital. It was a quiet


time for us. There was no fighting, of course, that was all finished. And Aleppo was a very nice little city in those days. Had a tram that ran up the main street and back. About one mile each way, that’s all it did. One up and back each way. Not, quite a nice little city.
Where there clear signs of the fighting that had gone on there?
No, I didn’t see any signs of the fighting there. The


Syrian campaign was over. The 7th Division had gone up there and cleaned up the French who were fighting.
Wasn’t widespread destruction of buildings?
No, no, none at all in Aleppo that I recall. And so how, that’s how I spent quite a few weeks in Aleppo. There were some barracks up on the hill. That, they call them the German barracks. I don’t know why but they called... And the infantry, there was some infantry


billeted in those barracks. But we were in a, as I say, a three story building in the, right down in the middle of the town. And it was very, very good. We used to call into the Oxford Bar of a night time and when we were in the town and take them back to the billets. I think there was, I think there was a curfew on for about eight o’clock at night for us. And so we’d take back to the


our billets, bottles of the locally made Arak and Creme de Menthe and terrible stuff, stuff like this. The local brandy, it was worse. And we’d take this stuff back. And after having something to eat, we had a bit of a cook house down below. We would go up to our room where we were on the second or the third floor.


We were sleeping on palliaises on the floor. And we would drink these bottles, whatever we had. Whatever grog was there we’d drink it. And then we would have competitions. We would, the competition would be that you had to walk down all the stairs and say something to the guard at the front door and then get up the stairs again. And very few made it. And so you spent most of the night


half way up the stairs you know asleep until you woke up maybe at two or three o’clock and then finished and then got up back to your room.
Were the three of you responsible for the maintenance and repair of the truck?
No, there were mechanics. The Field Ambulance has a transport company comprising drivers and mechanics. And the mechanics would tend to the running of the... The drivers would only drive.
What were the points near the border where


you’d stop. Were they similar to an RAP that you’d go and wait for people?
Yeah, yeah they were RAP’s. They were company, probably, company strength soldiers would be there. Maybe A Company or B Company or whatever and there would be an RAP hanging round there somewhere. And we’d find the RAP and just wait. And sometimes we’d wait all day and maybe all night. And then somebody would get sick or maybe have a little accident


or something would go wrong. And that soldier or maybe one or two of them would have to be taken back to Aleppo and off loaded and then we’d just wait ‘til we got another call to go out. To either that place or to another place.
Was there any fighting going on at all?
It was purely looking after the people who became ill or...
We were purely an occupation force. We were an occupation, the 9th Division was an occupation Army there from January until the end of June 1942. We did a lot of


exercises. We did, we participated in battalion and company and battalion exercises. And I can remember several times we, we were taken out and had to pretend that we were rescuing men and bringing them back by stretchers you know and so forth and so on. Rather strenuous work. But no there was no fighting.
Were there


refugees or local population that you would attend to while you were there?
No. No we didn’t attend to anybody except the soldiers. I know that there were refugees coming over the border but they, it wasn’t our responsibility to have anything to do with them. Nothing at all. There was a refugee reception centre in Aleppo. I was told. But I never saw it. I don’t know where it was exactly.
What other nationalities were


in Aleppo at that time? Sorry, in terms of soldiers.
Soldiers? Well apart from the Australians there was a Free French unit there, and there was some British Commandos. The New Zealanders were there, there were some New Zealand soldiers there. Until we got there. When we arrived in Aleppo, the New Zealanders were leaving the place. I think they might have been there for two or three


days before. I just saw them fleetingly. The British Commandos were there, quite a few of them, there might have been a couple of hundred of those there. I don’t know exactly where they were billeted and they had the, and Free French Foreign Legionnaires.
What was the relationship like between the Free French and the Australian troops?
Oh quite good, we used to drink together. In the Oxford Bar. Have a few drinks yeah.


There was only one night, there was a big fight in the Oxford Bar and that was caused by the, a couple of British Commandos. A couple of the, they were Scots these fellows and they were only about five foot two in height but by Christ they were tough boys. And they walked these two fellows, we were all there one night having a drink and these two fellas walked in and threw something straight at the barman


and smashed all the bottles behind the bar and the next minute it was on. There were fellas fighting. Anyhow, who was I with that night? I’m not sure exactly, but we, there were three or four of us. I think I was with Georgie Gray that night. I think I was. That’s right. And we decided we’d get out quickly because we knew the Provos’d be there and everyone’d be locked up. So Georgie Gray and myself we just


went. Got out of it. We weren’t in the fight. Pleased to say.
Now I’m gonna jump ahead quite a bit just given the time constraints. I just wanted to ask you in the aftermath of receiving your shell blast injuries in Alamein and you were taken back to the British Hospital in Alexandria.
Number eight.
You being housed in tents there? Cared for in tents?
On no, no, the Number Eight in Alexandria was a big building. The tented hospital was the Number One British Hospital. down on the Canal,


that was further back. And yes after leaving the 2/11th Field Ambulance, the main dressing station, I went back to the 8th British Hospital at Alex, which was in a building as I say and there weren’t enough beds for anybody and they, I was lay, with a lot of other fellows, I was laid down in a corridor


on a stretcher. And I laid there for a couple of days. And because there were not enough beds. But, then I’d only been there a few hours and some young British Medical Officer came along. And he decided he would operate on my elbow. And also operate on my loin and see if there were any pieces of shrapnel still there. And so I had an operation there. But then after a couple more days I was


moved back further to the Number One in tents down on the Canal. Number One British.
Can I ask you about your faith or confidence in the British Medical Officer who performed the operation on you? Were you very scared?
No I wasn’t, I wasn’t happy with him at all. Because he said that I’d, he had some sort of an x-ray machine there and I didn’t know that I’d had also some shrapnel in my left hand. He found it and


he said “Oh I’ll operate on that and get that out”. Well I didn’t think it was necessary. I was trying to see where the shrapnel was and I said “No I don’t think it’s necessary or something like that. And he said “You know you’re in the Army now you, it’s gotta be done”. Anyhow I argued with him this fellow, he was only a young, well he wouldn’t have been much older than me. He was only twenty-two, he might have been twenty-three or four. And he was anxious to get the knife into my hand. Anyhow I argued


with him and I said “No I don’t want you to touch the hand, it’s not bad, it’s not too bad”. And so he didn’t And that bit of shrapnel is still there, even today. There we are. Wouldn’t allow anyone to, I didn’t want him to touch it. When I got back to the Australian Hospital in Palestine, Major West was the surgeon in the ward and he came to me one day and he said “You know you’ve got a bit of shrapnel in your hand, would you like me to


take it out?”. And I said “No I wouldn’t”. And he didn’t, he didn’t argue. He was quite okay.
Were you fearful then of sur, of the things that could go wrong with the surgery?
I was worried about this young doctor. This young Pommy bloke because I didn’t know how good he was. And I didn’t like him just lashing out and mucking my hand up.
Having treated many people who must have been in a similar situation to you, with similar wounds to what you


had, were you particularly fearful or confident that you would be okay?
I was fairly confident yeah. I was fairly confident. Because I knew that none of my organs had been disturbed. Although I had a big wound in the loin in hadn’t actually broken through into the stomach. It was on the side. All that flesh. That didn’t actually break through into the stomach wall. So, it was,


I knew it wasn’t severe, it wasn’t a dangerous wound. I knew I was perfectly okay.
Were you fearful of amputation of your arm?
No I never gave it a thought. But by the time I got back to Palestine, my elbow was about the size of a big football. Big. with infection and I was running a terribly high temperature, I know that. And but they fed this sulphur into me


and apparently after a few weeks or whatever it was. Quite a few weeks the arm went down in size and the sulphur took over and I got better. Major West then after all this, some weeks later actually when I was walking around and Major West said to me “You’ve made a good recovery Hughes. I was thinking of taking that arm off because I was worried”, because if he had of decided to do it, I wouldn’t have been asked, he would have


just done it. So I was lucky, I’m very lucky. That he was, that he didn’t take it off. Because it’s been a good friend to me for many years.
Have you had continuing trouble with it though, since the war?
No. None.
Did it return to full, fully working...?
Yeah pretty well. Well the elbow doesn’t work, it’s stiff. The elbow doesn’t work at all So it’s stiff for life. I


haven’t even got that movement in it, none at all. But I’ve got, I can move my hand, I can pick things up, I’ve got full shoulder movement. So I got out of it very lightly really. Very lightly.
What’s it been like to have that permanent reminder though of your experiences there?
Oh I never think about it really. No. It’s over sixty years ago, I’m used to it. Quite, you know, I can do anything.
And what about when you returned to Australia, was it an obvious, were you self


conscious about it? Was it something that people asked about?
No, I didn’t talk about it much. When I got the job, I started to, I met my, the girl who is now my wife, Shirley. I didn’t tell her and she didn’t know for more than three months that I had a gammy arm. I didn’t tell her. Kept it quiet. And, oh no it wasn’t a big deal.


Can I ask about when you did come back to Australia, did you go straight back to the accountancy work that you’d been doing?
No, I didn’t. I never went back to it. No, I think I must have been a bit unsettled. I just felt I wanted a temporary job and that and then I got this temporary job in the Repat. Repatriation Department. I became a Public Servant. And I worked my way up in the service and I


think I mentioned I took over, Chairman of the Repatriation Board then and became the person who had to decide whether claims would be accepted or rejected. That was very good.
Can you express more fully that sense of unsettled-ness when you returned?
No I don’t think I can really. I can’t remember being unsettled but I must have been because I remember thinking no I don’t want to go back, I don’t think I can settle down to study again.


Would have been wise if I had of done. I could’ve done. But I didn’t. I took the temp, I took this job. As a clerk and stayed there. And that was it.
Were you okay with concentration and that sort of thing, the work of a clerk?
Oh yeah.
Was it easy enough to return to work?
Oh yeah. Yes I decided when, after I joined the Repat. After I’d been there for


two or three years, and by this time I’d been courting Shirley and we were married in 1945 and I decided that I, to get on in the place I’d better specialise in something. And I observed, I noted that there were a lot of fellows who didn’t know the various criteria for


eligibility to claim a pension. And they were always asking questions, you know what about this fellow, he served here would he be eligible and how do the dates confirm and things like that. And there were only about three old First War fellows there who were experts. In all this, in this field. And I thought to myself well I’ll learn this and I did. I made it my business to learn


all about the eligibility criteria and they were quite extensive and little bit confusing at first. But I got on top of it So that in the end after a couple of years, people had to come to me to ask. And so I got on a bit.
Was that satisfying and rewarding work helping the ex-servicemen who you obviously respected?
Yes, it was. It was satisfying work and I


loved it yes I did. I loved my work. And I didn’t take any sick leave at any time. I was always there and I loved it. Yeah, it was great. And when I went onto the Board of course I had to leave the Public Service and I became a Statutory Authority and had to be re-elect, re-appointed every two or three years. Sometimes for two years, sometimes for three. Yeah it was very good work and I enjoyed it.
Did that allay any


of the frustrations or guilt you might have felt about not being with your unit? About having to return early?
I don’t remember feeling like that by the time I got on. Got on a bit. The war was over by then. Yeah.
Can you recall, recount for me the day you heard of Victory in Europe? Do you recall where you were?
Yes I was up in Chalmers Street on the second floor of the building and I was attending a


course in ‘How to be a Pensions Examiner’. I never became a pensions examiner, I went on to other fields. But I was selected to go on this two week course how to be an examiner. And we were, that was, as I recall around about midday or so. No might have been round about eleven o’clock. And the news came through the War in Europe was over. And


all the First War Soldiers didn’t react like the Second World War blokes. The First War soldiers kept on working in the place. There were quite a few, there weren’t many Second War soldiers working there. But anyhow the first thing I knew was people were saying, “Come on Gordon, come on, we’ll go round the pub”. And all the Second War soldiers walked out of the place. Very irresponsible when I think about it now. Very irresponsible but we did. We walked out. The Deputy


Commissioner was a bloke named Rupert Carsville. And he was not amused.. And he gave us a bit of a lecture the next day when we went back to work. But, however our reaction was well “Thank Christ for that”, you know. “Thank Christ the bloody war in Europe’s over. Now we’ve only got the one to go”, that’s the Japanese.
Was there a confidence that now that resources could be focused onto
Oh yes. We, we felt that time the Japanese war would go.


The visions of the 6th and the 7th and the 9th were up there in the islands. And working with a great deal of success and casualties, of course. But nevertheless they were a very good fighting force those three divisions. They did well.
Can you walk me through then hearing of Victory in Pacific?
Yes, I was down in, I was down working at 112


Pitt Street in those days. In August wasn’t it ‘45 if I remember. Yeah. And, that’s right, May ‘45 was the... in Europe and August ‘45 was over there. When we heard of course a couple of days before that the big bomb had gone off and then the second one and everyone was waiting expectantly and sure enough the news came through.


And I remember walking around to Martin Place and that was, I’ve seen scenes taken in Martin Place but I’ve never seen myself there. But I was in Martin Place that day. And everybody was dancing and everybody was very happy. We were very happy. As a nation we were very pleased. Very pleased that the bloody war was over. Yeah, was a hell of, six years you know. It took a long time.
On that day, did it seem like all the loss and sacrifice had been worthwhile?
I can’t


remember thinking what I thought that day. I can’t remember what I thought exactly. Except that I was happy that it was over. See I wasn’t in the war very long. You’ve gotta remember I was discharged from the war in 1943 with this wound. And so I became a civilian then. And I knew that I wouldn’t go back into the war after that but nevertheless it was with a great feeling of relief that I knew that the war was over.


And my mates, who were still alive would come back and all the other soldiers. And of course I also, I remembered the poor fellows who’d been killed up there and you know there was one of my best friends in Manly before the War. Was Barry Carr-Boyd. Who was a hockey player, good cricketer, played with him in Manly


before the war. The Caledonian Club not the Grade. Just the Caledonian Club. And he was killed up in New Guinea. And he knew he was gonna be killed. That was a funny, he had the feeling. Somebody said to me once, “Do you think you get a feeling about it?”. Well I don’t know. But Barry Carr-Boyd before he went up to Lae or Finschhafen yeah, with the 9th Division, I had a drink with him in the Angel


Hotel in Pitt Street there. And he said to me “I went right through Tobruk, and right through Alamein”. He said “I’ve got an idea that I don’t think I’ll get out of this one. I don’t think I’ll get out”. Well I remember laughing saying, “Oh don’t be bloody silly. Barry, you’ll be as good as gold”. But he wasn’t, he was killed up there. I think he knew he was gonna be.


Strange wasn’t it. He had that feeling. Yeah.
Do things like that get you thinking again about whether there’s someone upstairs?
Oh I don’t think that’s got anything to do with it. No, Barry was a lovely boy. His proper name was Beresford. Beresford Carr-Boyd, hyphenated name. He was a bonzer bloke. He was a Corporal in the 2/17th Battalion,


which was a very famous battalion. And did a lot of good work. Marvellous work that battalion. The Colonel of the Battalion at that time was John Broadbent and you may or may not meet him in this project you’re doing. He, Major General Broadbent, now. And he had a great regard for Barry Carr-Boyd too. But that’s by the way.


Do you feel that your wartime experience changed you Gordon?
I don’t know what to say about that because it changed me from what or to what? You know I don’t know really. No, life goes on. You don’t, if it did change me I don’t know from what. I am just what I am now I suppose.
Did you feel any more


responsibility or increased maturity?
Oh you grow up very quickly. Yeah, you do. Once you’re a soldier I think you grow up very quickly. Very quickly. You suddenly find yourself, you’re expected to be a man. You’re, one minute you’re a young fella playing a bit of cricket down the oval or something and the next minute you’ve gotta be a soldier, you’re a man. Very quickly.
What about an appreciation for life or,


do you think that maybe you made more of your life on returning? Having seen the cheapness of it over there?
I may have done, I’m not sure about that. I’m not sure. All I know is that when I came back from the war I, it was an experience for me, of course, it was an experience for everyone over there.


Cause I’ve lived with the war over the years working with the soldiers in the Department too, you know. It’s been my, it’s really been my life. Because every day of my life I’ve been helping soldiers make their claims, or dealing with their claims in a quasi judicial capacity. And since I retired


I was happy to take over the secretary-ship of the Rats of Tobruk Association. So I’m associated every day with old soldiers.
Can you imagine yourself having gone into a job that involved helping people so much if you hadn’t gone off to War? If you’d started off and continued your accountancy?
I’ve never thought about it really. I suppose if I had continued my


accountancy and stayed at home I would’ve become a Chartered Accountant and all that sort of business. Earned a lot more money than I have earned, of course. But on the other hand life’s been very good for me and I’ve been very happy the way things have been going. Four children, twelve grandchildren, three great grandchildren. Another one on the way soon.


So life’s been very good to me in many ways, I can’t complain.
Were there any major lessons you learned from your war time experience?
I don’t know whether I would be as close to people to my mates as I am now. I’m very close to all the old fellas who served in Tobruk with me. And we meet


regularly, drink together and talk together. Don’t talk about the war very much. We just talk, about other things. And I don’t know what, if I’d been a civilian all my life, at my age, if I’d be as close to other civilians in that circumstance as I am in my present way of being, as an old soldier who’s mingling with old soldiers all the time.


So I’m not, I think that I prefer the way it is. I’m quite happy with the way it is.
What do you think it was that inspired that?
What that comradeship? Oh I suppose being together. Taking the risks together. Surviving. You know. There aren’t that many of us left now. And a few of the old boys are falling off the twig all the time you know.


Hardly a week goes by that I don’t get a couple of phone calls telling me that so and so’s just died. Only two days ago I heard that Gus Fahler had died. He was over in, having a holiday in England. He was a sailor on the HMAS Nizam. On the Tobruk run. Between Alex and Tobruk. Lovely fellow Gus. And he married this English girl Leah. He was over in England with her, visiting


some friends recently and he died the other day.
What were the best of times?
Could Shirl, could Shirl hear that? You better stop it, there’s some...
What were the major changes you noticed in the community as a result of the war? Were there any permanent changes to Australian society or what it means to be Australian?


Well you see it’s hard for me to answer a thing like that with any degree of authority because as a young man living in, pardon me, living in Sydney, I wasn’t particularly aware of much that happened in the way of culture in Sydney. And ever since the war


I’ve been in this atmosphere of mixing with Returned Soldiers. And I have very little to do with people who aren’t. Even when I go to the bowling club, I sit with the old soldiers at the bowling club. Fellas from the other divisions you know. And people like that. I hardly ever have, I don’t have


a great, I can’t give you much of an answer to that one.
Do we need to wait, can you hear that background noise? Okay, so no worries. What were the best of times in your war experience?
Probably the few months we spent up in Syria and Lebanon. And when we were in Lebanon


for about a little over a month before we went down to Alamein, we were camped outside of Beirut. Up in the hills outside of Beirut in a little village called Kafarzia, which was populated by Arabs who were Christian in their beliefs and who were very keen Christians too. And they had a little church there and they were Russian Orthodox we were told. And the


people in that little village were very kind to us. We had some running water on
Oh excuse me I think it’s getting a bit... do you recall where you were up to?
Well I was talking about Kafarzia and the locals in the town used to come down to our camp which was only on the edge of the town. We were in tents there. And every morning, and the women, the women from the town would come into the tents


and take any clothing we wanted to have washed. So we didn’t have to wash our own clothes there. It was lovely. And after work that day, whatever we were doing, we would go up into the town and I got to know a very nice family there. There were two or three of us got to know this family. The husband fellow, his name was Adeeb, his wife’s name was Anissa and he had a little a daughter about ten


named Salva and he had a little boy named Nadine. And they used to take us into their little one room that was their house, that’s all. Only one room. And the mattresses were piled up over there and of a night time they spread the mattresses out apparently. And they the wife used to make hot water and put it up onto a little temporary shelter outside the back of their place


and we would strip off and stand under here and she’d pour the hot water over us and we’d have a hot shower of a night. One after the other. and she’d give us towels to dry ourselves. She was very kind indeed, they were lovely people. And the husband would be there helping too and you know handing us our towels, everything, our clothes. And the little girl named Salva she would go down the street and bring back maybe a bottle of Arak. Which was the


local drink over there. And we would have this with their food. And they’d give us some, it was mainly olives and stuff like that. Olive groves everywhere. We on our part then we decided that we would help the family. They appeared to be very poor. And so when we were having our own breakfast or evening meal, in our tents down below, if there was any butter left over or any jam left over or bread left over


we would take it and give it to the family. Yeah we had about a month or so there. So we were very impressed with the kindness that they exhibited to us. Lovely, lovely people they were.
What were the worst of times.?
The worst times when I was in the Army? Oh I suppose you’d have to say my worst experience were the


three or four days I was there at Alamein. That was very hectic, very hectic. Quite frightening really. You know, one, when one is subjected to constant attack, constant shelling and mortar and so forth. You have to spend a fair bit of time on the ground trying to preserve your body.


Best way you can. And I remember that first few days at Alamein as probably being the worst time.
And what was your proudest moment of your service?
Proudest? Ooh I don’t know whether I had a proud moment. Probably playing, we got the sporting goods given to us when we come over Tobruk. And probably when we were playing hockey and things like that. We went round Palestine playing hockey.


And we didn’t win many games but we had a lot of fun. It was good-o. Yeah that was a lot of fun. You know swimming in the Sea of Galilee was another occasion I remember because we tried to walk on the water like somebody else did. And we couldn’t. We sank quickly.
There’s just a small amount of tape left, is there anything else you wanted to say for the record?
No I’ve had


a long life, and I’ve been proud to be an Australian. Still am very proud to be an Australian. It is the best country in the world. There’s no doubt about that. We, and anyone who says different well they don’t know really. It’s a lovely country and with lovely people.
Thank you
You’re welcome.


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